Northwest Indiana's High School 'Renegade' Final 2017
Girls Softball Poll... and a look ahead to 2018


A Special Report by Mark Smith

CP's Alexis Holloway allowed three runs in 48 innings as Crown Point became the ninth Northwest Indiana team to win an IHSAA softball state championship. Will Kankakee Valley become the 10th state title team in 2018? (Photo by Mark Smith)

CROWN POINT (7-10-2017) When one of our local teams ends up winning the state championship, it's a successful season. Crown Point became the ninth Northwest Indiana school to win a state championship in the 33 years of our state's softball tournament.

When two teams reach the finals, it's a great season. The trick for Kankakee Valley, which lost in the Class 3A title game for the second season in a row, is to not consider themselves losers because they've lost two consecutive finals, but celebrate being winners for winning consecutive sectional, regional and semistate crowns.

Northwest Indiana wins more state softball titles than they actually should going by population. There are 21 softball playing schools in Lake County but only 43 softball in the six county area (Lake, Porter, LaPorte, Newton Jasper and Starke) we call Northwest Indiana. Nine of them are city schools in Hammond, Michigan City and Gary. Softball isn't a city game culturally or financially and those schools really can't compete.

The region's largest schools (Portage, Lake Central, Merrillville, Crown Point, Valparaiso) are all funneled through one regional so there can be no more than four NWI teams in semistate play in any year. Still, since the beginning of four class sports in Indiana, NWI has won at every level.

The second biggest question going into the 2018 season will be: can Crown Point continue to get the pitching they have gotten the last five seasons? 2016 graduate Miranda Elish was 74-6 in four seasons. 2017 grad Alexis Holloway was 53-3 with 14 saves in four years.

So that's an easy question. No, Crown Point will not have two pitchers go 127-9 the next five years. That's not going to happen. But it's also not logical to think that nobody in the very large CPHS softball youth program can pitch.

I'd again like to promote a local softball tournament for 2018. Most schools have two playable fields and that's all you need for an eight team, two day tournament. There needs to be an event in NWI softball. One that all who care can attend to see top teams and some of the best players. An eight team playoff featuring Crown Point and Chesterton from the DAC, Kankakee Valley and Lowell from the NCC, Hanover and Bishop Noll from the GSSC and a couple of rotating visitors like Benton Central or Mishawaka Marian would create two days of good play without matching up sectional rivals late in the season.

I'd also like to eliminate the Tuesday night regional. Lots of us old folks can't attend and it's on a school night. There's no reason for the 'hurry-up' 3-week tournament schedule and it forces all sectionals to try to play on weekdays, further limiting attendance.

I'd also like to see two schools experiment with playing a nonconference triple-header on a Saturday. The concept of a double-header is a baseball concept. If a quality school comes a long way to play you, why not play them three times? That allowing most everyone on your roster to play. Three softball games, a virtual best-of-3-game series would take about six hours, no problem on a Saturday. Give away a trophy at the end for the team that won 2-out-of-3. Why not? If there are so few playable days, why not make the most of Saturday, when there are no time limitations?

1. (3A) Kankakee Valley (22-9)
28-5 (2016), 19-12 (2015), 16-13 (2014)

WHEATFIELD: The biggest question going into 2018 will be: Can Kankakee Valley, Class 3A state runner up in 2016 and 2017, get back to the title game a third time? It could happen. KV graduated just two seniors: Hannah Cabe and MacKenzie Adams and while Adams was an impact player (38 of 82, .463), the Kougars only need to replace the center fielder (Cambe) and the right fielder (Adams) from the lineup that started the state title game. Pitcher Emma Maple (17-6, 1.65 ERA) was not 100% in the title game and it showed. Maple was 23-5 as a sophomore and the right hander should be OK for the 2018 season. Catcher Madeline (Maddy) Swart (54 of 116, .465) and home run leader Kaylee Barrett (31 of 108, 9 HRs, .287, 33 RBIs) will be back for two more years. Maple (42 of 105, .400, 6 HRs, 45 RBIs) was second on the team in homers in her junior season. The good news for KV's 2018 playoff hopes: Class 3A should be a little down locally (Hanover and Andrean took significant graduation losses) in 2017. Bad news: New Palestine (31-2), which defeated KV 13-6 in the state championship game, returns both state home run leader Ashley Prague (74 of 134, .552, 21 HRs, 67 RBIs) and runner-up Emily O'Connor (67 of 120, .558, 14 Hrs, 59 RBIs) plus pitcher MacKenzie Jones (9-0, 1.71 ERA).

2. (4A) Lake Central (23-8)
24-7 (2016), 29-7-1 (2015), 20-9 (2014), 23-7 (2013), 26-3 (2012)

ST. JOHN: LC will be good again next year. That's not breaking news since they've won 20 games for 29 seasons in a row. I always bring up that streak because you can only play 31 regular season softball games in this state and you are in no way guaranteed to play beyond the first round of the post-season. That means LC has won 60% of their games, no matter what the competition is, for just short of 30 years. But 2018 could have post-season glory. LC graduated just three senior players in June and junior power-hitting first baseman Alex Hickey (24 of 85, .290, 6 HRs, 30 RBIs) was not one of them. All of Lake Central's pitchers return, making them the favorite in the DAC, along with Chesterton. The unfortunate thing about 2018 Class 4A softball in our area is that of Lake Central, Lowell, Munster and Crown Point, only one team is going to get out of Class 4A Sectional 1. But Lake Central, with that 29-year 20-game winning streak, rides a horse nobody else has in the barn. 30 years in a row? Probably so.

3. (4A) Lowell (16-11)
7-15 (2016), 13-17 (2015), 16-9 (2014)

LOWELL: The oddity of Crown Point winning the state championship with Lowell's longtime coach Pete Iussig is: The only Northwest Indiana team to defeat Crown Point in their state title season was: Lowell, The score was 1-0. Lowell lost in the sectional semifinals 7-6 to Munster or they would have met CP again in the sectional semifinals. The Devils have an offensive player in Hailey Boylan (32 of 70, .457, 34 RBIs) who is a major troublemaker. Among her 32 base hits were eight doubles and 10 home runs. The Devils also had a freshman Ryleigh Marsh (33 of 80, .412) who scored 26 runs. Junior third baseman Alyssa Sharkey (30 of 83, .361) had four homers and 22 RBIs. Two pitchers, Haven Stanley (6-2, 2.58 ERA) and Delaney Huber (3-3, 3.24 ERA), did their time in 2017 and should be improved by April. Lowell is a lot like KV. They'll have basically the same team they had in 2017. Pitcher Kendall Torrence, the shutout winner against CP, was the only senior on the Lowell roster in 2017. There were nine juniors on coach Mike McLindon's playoff roster including both catchers. There's a lot in play here for the 2018 season.

4. (4A) Chesterton (25-7)
17-8 (2016), 17-9 (2015), 18-14 (2014), 22-5 (2013), 21-11 (2012)

CHESTERTON: The Trojans won the school's ninth sectional before being eliminated by eventual state champion Crown Point at the regional level. So I'm still with them. The Trojans lose only four seniors and return catcher Shelby Grimm (.414, 19 stolen bases) to anchor the 2018 team. Pitchers Lauren Anderson and Lexio Benko, the only pitchers the Trojans used in the post-season, will both return from a team that won 14 consecutive games in the second half of the season. Chesterton should take advantage of a Duneland Conference where several top pitchers graduated in June. Let's be specific. Chesterton should take advantage of the last of the all-state pitchers at Crown Point finally graduating. With CP, LC, Munster and Lowell in 4A Sectional 1, LaPorte and perennial power Penn in 4A Sectional 3, and Chesterton in 4A Sectional 2, the Trojans again have a good chance to be sectional champions.

5. (4A) Crown Point (30-2)
28-2 (2016), 29-3 (2015), 29-1 (2014), 25-5 (2013), 25-8 (2012)

CROWN POINT: CP will spend the summer celebrating the school's first state title after a 14-0 Duneland Athletic Conference (DAC) season and a six game playoff run. The good news is that they have most of the position players back from that team, including first baseman Grace Frazier (29 of 75, .384) center fielder Mallory McMahon (23 of 81, .284), infielder Maggie Ballentine (18 of 61, .295), left fielder Lydia Byrd (16 of 60, .266) and infielder Caitlyn Phillips (24 of 75, .320). They won't have much power, but they will have a lot of speed. Freshman Anna Holloway is highly regarded and will play somewhere. But none of the names mentioned here are pitchers and softball is still a game dominated by the pitcher and catcher. Crown Point needs two pitchers and a new catcher for next season and, heading into the new school year, I don't know who they are, but a few who do say the replacements are there. The schedule will probably remain the same with Penn, (West Lafayette) Harrison, Downers Grove South and the Lakeshore Invitational up in Stevensville, Michigan. It will be interesting to see how good CP can continue to be.

What about us.....?

6. (3A) Hanover Central (25-4)
24-5 (2016), 22-11 (2015), 29-5 (2014), 18-10 (2013)

CEDAR LAKE: Nobody graduated more good players than Hanover. The core of a team that went 100-25 in four years are moving on to college. Alexis Mokos (45 of 102, 8 HRs, 35 RBIs), Skyler Barnett (47 of 92, .511, 3 HRs, 48 runs scored), Alyssa Gill (41 of 92, .446, 8 HRs, 52 RBIs), Sophia Barbosa (18 of 62, .290, 4 HRs, 13 RBIs), Dakota Ward (22 of 60, .367), Marley Hanlon (43 of 87, .494) - all graduated in June and Hanlon was 24-3 with a 1.54 ERA. Who's left? A few who played: Camryn Veteto (33 of 86, .394) who scored 31 runs. Ashtyn Barnett (24 of 75, .320). Kylee Gill (12 of 33, .364). And two freshman pitchers who will now get their chance. Hanover always seems to find pitching. The 2018 season will put that tradition to the ultimate test.

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Revised: July 10, 2017.