Wawasee freshman Amber Lemberg digs in while delivering a pitch during Tuesday's regional game against Leo. Photo by Gary Nieter, Times-Union
Wawasee freshman Amber Lemberg digs in while delivering a pitch during Tuesday's regional game against Leo. Photo by Gary Nieter, Times-Union
SYRACUSE – In a game between two softball squads vying for their first regional championship, the speed of the Class 3A No. 7 Leo Lady Lions proved to be the difference.
Leo (24-6) advanced to Saturday’s Twin Lakes Semistate against fifth-ranked Hanover Central by defeating the host Wawasee Lady Warriors (20-11) by a count of 3-2 Tuesday in Syracuse, manufacturing each of its runs.
“We’re very fast and we took advantage of that a couple times, on some errant throws by their catcher,” Leo coach Ben Shappell said. “That really was the difference in the game. They hit the ball better than we did. They played better defense than we did.”
Wawasee did outhit Leo 9-6 and committed two errors to the Lady Lions’ four, but the opportune hit was tough to come by.
Through three innings, Wawasee had eight hits off junior pitcher Lindsey Bowers, but only had one run to show for it, leaving five runners on base and three in scoring position.
“We should have scored a few more runs, given some of the circumstances,” first-year Wawasee coach Jared Knipper said.
The first run of the game came after Leo junior Hannah Risser was hit by a pitch from Wawasee freshman Amber Lemberg with two outs.
After stealing second, Risser advanced to third on a bad throw on the attempt, then scored on an RBI single off the bat of freshman Abbie Heischman.
Wawasee responded to that score with one of its one in the bottom half of the frame, as sophomore Cristina DeLaFuente came around to score on a single by sophomore Danielle Gunkel.
A batter later, freshman Meghan Fretz posted the fourth hit of the inning, but sophomore Kylee Rostochak was thrown out at the plate, leaving the game knotted at 1-1.
Dodging major damage in the bottom of the third, Leo got two more runs in the top of the fourth, the first on an RBI flyout and the second crossing after junior catcher Paige Hlutke attempted to throw out an attempted steal at third, but the ball sailed over Rostochak into the outfield.
“When we went down 1-0, the momentum shifted ever so slightly into their favor,” Knipper said. “Our girls responded, but they got up again. Again, we had to try to manufacture runs. It’s harder to play from behind than it is from ahead.”
After the third inning, Bowers shut down the Lady Warrior bats, as the only hit over the final four innings was an RBI single by freshman Ale Brito that plated Gunkel in the bottom of the sixth.
Even though Wawasee wasn’t reaching base via hits, they were getting on thanks to some spotty Leo defense, as the Lady Lions committed four errors in the final four innings.
The final Leo error came with Wawasee’s leadoff hitter at the plate in the bottom of seventh.
Allowing DeLaFuente to reach with zero outs, Wawasee had its Nos. 3, 4 and 5 batters coming up, but all they could do was popout and groundout for the final outs of the season.
“With that part of the order, they know that one swing of the bat ties this game,” Knipper said. “They know they can do that. With a young team, they want to end it in one swing. They definitely chased a couple of pitches they shouldn’t have.”
Bowers was putting some rise on her pitches in the final inning, making the Wawasee batters chase, which they did.
Playing behind four-year varsity starter Jessica Claxton her first two years at Leo, Bowers got her chance this season, and came up big in the regional, overcoming the Wawasee offense and her own team’s defense.
“I’ve been really impressed with her, especially through the sectional and regional,” Shappell said of Bowers. “The teams we’ve played have put her in some tough spots, and she’s really focused and buckled down.”
Between the two teams, only one senior took part in the game, making the thought of a possible regional rematch next year anything but far-fetched.
“They’re as young as we are,” Knipper said. “I fully expect, if we make it through our sectional again, we’ll see them again.”
With Lemberg getting the loss in the circle, pitching all seven innings and giving up six hits, the Wawasee offense was led by Fretz’s 2-for-3 game and freshman Madie Wilson’s 2-for-4 performance.
Speaking to his team after a record-setting 20-win season, Knipper was anything but doom and gloom with his squad, which started four freshmen and three sophomores.
“There’s nothing but good things,” he said. “When I took over this program, I looked them in the eye and said, ‘My goal is to win a state championship.’ I said, ‘That is the ultimate goal and I don’t see any kid on this team that can’t help that happen if some things come together.’
“It’s been a fun year,” he added. “Our girls should be proud to wear that uniform.”

LEO 3, WAWASEE 2
L    010    200    0    –    3    6    4
W    001    001    0    –    2    9    2
Leo – Lindsey Bowers (W, 7IP, 2R, 1ER, 9H, 1K, 0BB) and Robyn Hall.
Wawasee – Amber Lemberg (L, 7IP, 3R, 1ER, 6H, 1K, 1BB, 1HB) and Paige Hlutke.
3B – Alexa Allen (L).
Records: Leo 24-6, Wawasee 20-11.