By Dennis Glade Times Herald
The Washington Times-Herald
---- — ELNORA — Two months ago this didn’t seem possible. Even four weeks ago, the thought of winning a softball sectional was far from a certainty for North Daviess. Yet, in the second week of June, the Cougars are preparing to play in the Class A State Championship.
North Daviess (18-11) will play North Miami (28-4) in the first state title game Saturday morning at 10:30 a.m. at Ben Davis High School. This will be the second championship game appearance for North Daviess and the second since 2005.
The Cougars looked far from the team that has won five straight postseason games by outscoring their opponents 16-3 in the state tournament. To start the season, the Cougars lost four straight and seven of their first eight games. Mixing a group of girls from freshman to seniors proved difficult back in April, but coach Jodi Berry stayed the course. After starting 1-7, North Daviess finished the regular season by winning 12 of its final 16 games.
“Before the season started we knew the talent we had coming back and the freshman class we had coming in and we had high hopes coming in and then the year started not quite up to par,” Berry said. “We knew we had to buckle down and get to work. The girls dug in, kept fighting and didn’t give up. We have gotten over that mental block of can I do it, and it’s now we know we can do it. The girls are settling into the routine and they’re taking our mantra of execution, execution, execution and putting that into play.”
While the fielding errors have been non-existent in the postseason, the Cougars committed two errors in the third inning of Saturday night’s championship game against Clay City. The miscues, which included a pop up falling between pitcher Tailon Graber and the left side of the infield, allowed the Eels to tie the game at one. North Daviess responded to win the game to fight through a mental test. The infield defense of shortstop Jessica Miller and second basemen Morgan Wadsworth was key down the stretch.
The Cougars have continually been tested, and despite the plus-13 scoring margin in five postseason games, four of the five games have been nail biters, with the exception of the regional championship win over Tecumseh when North Daviess put up seven runs on seven hits in the first inning. You could make a case that North Daviess has been the underdog for its last four games, but that didn’t phase Berry.
“We have a little speech before every game and said, ‘everybody has swung and missed, everybody has struck out — it’s going to happen,’” Berry said. “They laugh at me when I say it, but softball is a simple sport. They hit the ball, we field it and we throw it — if we do that, we’re going to be fine. They pitch the ball, we make the contact and put it in play, good things are going to happen. Just believing no matter who you are, it comes down to whoever executes better on that given day.”
For Berry, the combination of Graber in the circle and the excellent defense behind her has been the key to the postseason success. Graber has allowed three runs (two earned) in 35 innings pitched, but there have been only three errors committed in those 35 innings and none in the first 30 innings.
“Tailon is one dandy little pitcher, there is no doubt about it — she’s our little Pit Bull,” Berry said. “She’s not striking everybody out, but she’s not giving up that big hit and our defense is making those routine plays on the ground balls and the pop flies. We can’t let the routine plays sneak up on us.”
North Daviess will face another stiff challenge on Saturday against North Miami. The Cougars will have to contend with junior Josie Wood, who excels in the circle and at the plate. Wood has a 21-1 record with a 0.28 ERA to go with 261 strikeouts in 123 inning and 34 hits allowed. At the plate, Wood has a .629 batting average with seven doubles, 11 triples, 14 home runs and 47 RBIs.
For Berry and her coaching staff, she would like to savor the process more than she did back in 2005. With a new format in the scheduling, Berry will be able to make great memories with this team that has exceeded all expectations.
“It is so nice having been there before,” Berry said. “We all talked after the 2005 trip that we wish we could have just slowed down and enjoyed it. Don’t get me wrong, we wall want to win and there’s not doubt we’re going to try our hardest, but the memories that are made is the part I didn’t get to enjoy the first time, because there was so much to do. A lot of people don’t realize, you win semistate and by noon the next day you have to have a packet of information to the state departement. It’s nice to sit back and take a breath this year with the new format. In semistate in 2005 we won on Friday night and were back in our beds by one in the morning and had to be back on the diamond at 8:30 a.m. The new format has allowed us to enjoy the memories and enjoy the community outpouring of support, which has been phenomenal. Not just the North Daviess community — we’ve gotten text messages from Bryan Hughes, Amber DeCoursey, Greg Clark, from Tecumseh, Clay City, Evansville and Avon. It’s been awesome for the kids to be able to enjoy that.”