Northwest Indiana's High School 'Renegade' 2018, Final
'Magnificent 7' Girls Softball Poll ... and a look ahead to 2019

7-06-2018

A USA-365.com Special Report by Mark Smith

Crown Point coach Pete Iussig, (far right) and head trainer Trent Trump (middle, wearing sunglasses), who retired in June after 23 years with the Crown Point athletic program. (Photo by Mark Smith)

ST. JOHN (07-04-2018) It was hard to watch Decatur Central (32-4) score four runs in the sixth to take the Class 4A state title game 5-2. I know this was LC's 12th state finals appearance, far more than anyone else in Northwest Indiana. But leading 2-1 with six outs to go, it was a tough loss for an LC team which had seven seniors.

The LC-Decatur game was the only title game that seemed really close, but most of the finalists all seemed to be geared to return some time soon.

Pioneer (32-3) won the Class 1A state crown with a 10-1 win over North Central. Hailey Gotshall (30-2) finished her freshman season with 279 strikeouts and 26 complete games. She also batted (78 of 128) .609 with 31 doubles. Shortstop Alexis Robinson (65 of 121, .537) finished her junior year with 15 home runs.

Bremen (26-4) lost the 2A state title game 5-0 to Speedway, but the Braves return 12 players on the playoff roster including pitcher Kaelyn Shivley (21-4, 1.71 ERA) and shortstop Erin Coffell (51 of 86, .593) who hit 22 home runs to lead the entire state.

And while New Palestine (30-1) won Class 3A for the second consecutive season, it's St. Joseph's (25-6) who might be back in the state title game in 2019. Pitcher Lauren Sandor (24-5, 0.97 ERA), who lost the title game 3-1 finished her sophomore season with 254 strikeouts and just 41 walks in 178 innings.

Locally, the strength of the Duneland Athletic Conference (DAC) took a hit as Michigan City and Merrillville continued to lose twice a year to the top half of the 8-team league.

Overall there seemed to be a lack of pitching in NW Indiana in 2018. The great thing about high school softball is that one good freshman pitcher can turn good offensive teams like Kankakee Valley, LaPorte or Hanover Central into post season winners.

Lake Central was the top-ranked team here all season, so let's look ahead the ones to watch in 2019. Not necessarily the top five for 2009, just 'persons of interest,' as they say.


1. (4A) Crown Point (25-6)
30-2 (2017), 28-2 (2016), 29-3 (2015), 29-1 (2014), 25-5 (2013), 25-8 (2012)

CROWN POINT: This is an easy one. Crown Point, the 2017 Class 4A state champ and the team that lost to 2018 state finalist Lake Central, has a real chance to get back to the state title game in 2019. Of the 30 players listed in the Times newspaper all-area squad, 16 were seniors and 14 were underclassmen. Five of the underclassmen were Crown Point girls. CP returns virtually everyone from a 25-win team. Freshman pitchers Madi Young (11-1, 2.45) and Madi Elish (14-5, 1.70) will be (by the time you read this they already will be sophomores. Top center fielder Mallory McMahon (27 of 78, .346, 5 HRs, 20 RBIs) is scheduled to return in 2019 as is the entire CP infield including second baseman Maggie Ballentine (30 of 74, .405, 6 HRs, 2 RBIs) and shortstop Anna Holloway (30 of 78, .385, 6 HRs, 23 RBIs). Of the 11 Bulldog players who got in the sectional championship game against LC only Lydia Byrd (18 of 45, .400) has graduated. The Crown Point 2018 losses were to Harrison (26-2), New Palestine (31-1), Hamilton Southeastern (20-7), Kankakee Valley (26-5) and Lake Central (29-5) twice. The Bulldogs need to get better defensively. Officially they had 48 errors in 31 games in 2018 and playing behind a pitching staff that recorded 197 strikeouts in 203 innings, 48 is too many errors. But even if no new varsity caliber players come to Crown Point as freshmen or transfers (and that doesn't happen at a 2,800-kid school) the Bulldogs will have a state ranked Top-10 team again next season.


2. (4A) Kankakee Valley (26-5)
22-9 (2017), 29-6 (2016), 19-12 (2015), 16-13 (2014)

WHEATFIELD: KV brings back a lot of offense in 2019, but the girl who pitched the majority of games the last four years, Emma Maple (57-17, 2.07 ERA), has graduated. KV does bring back all-state catcher Madeline Swart (58 of 117, .496, 14 doubles, 46 RBIs) and home run hitter Kaylee Barrett (30-67, .448, 7 homers, 26 RBIs). Kadey Flick (49 of 111, .441) and Emma Sark (33 of 91, 363) will again scare opponents' pitchers. But they need a good season from sophomore-to-be Mary Kate Schultz (6-0, 1.94 ERA, 30 strikeouts in 43 innings) and they need to find someone else to help her out. The way I understand the IHSAA's 'success formula', the fact that the 3A (by enrollment) Kougars didn't win Class 4A Sectional 1 in 2018 means they will go back to 3A in 2020. But KV is in 4A in 2019 so they'll need a top pitcher to compete there. This team is looking at another 20-win regular season. There are too many good hitters at KV not to win 20 games again.


3. (4A) Lake Central (29-5)
23-9 (2017), 24-7 (2016), 29-7-1 (2015), 20-9 (2014), 23-7 (2013)

St. JOHN: Lake Central lost the lead late and lost the 4A state title game to Decatur Central by a 5-2 score. The run they went on, winning six playoff games and defeating three ranked teams just underlines how difficult it is to win a single-elimination state tournament. Will LC return and win a lot of games in 2019? Yes. Will they win the post-season? I don't know. Pitcher Alex Pinarski (22-3, 1.10 ERA) has graduated, but short sample numbers for tall right-hander Grace Renschen (3-1, 2.16 ERA) are OK. In her freshman debut Renschen struck out 35 in 32 innings. LC needs new pitching, but they return experience in Jenna Towle (36 of 98, .369, 2 Hrs, 26 RBIs), Alexis Johnson (18 of 55, .327), Gabi Carra (40 of 102, .392, 6 HRs, 24 RBIs), a second baseman who will play in the Big-10 at Wisconsin and catcher Olivia Peterson (25 of 87, .287, 2 Hrs, 19 RBIs), who missed the championship game. She's another Division I player headed to play in the Big-10 at Minnesota. Lake Central is rarely short of incoming players, so graduation-created holes usually get filled. They need to find a pitcher to have another big winning season. LC has won at least 20 games for 30 years in a row and 2019 should be no different.


4. (3A) Hanover Centtral (17-12)
2017 (25-4), 2016 (24-5), 2015 (22-11), 2014 (29-5)

CEDAR LAKE: Hanover graduated seven three-year starters after 2017 so they figured to slip in the win column. HC did get to the 3A Sectional championship game where Highland stopped them 6-1. The good news is that Hanover can bring almost the entire team back for the 2019 season. Ashtyn Barnett (38 of 80, .475, 4 HRs, 33 RBIs) will be a junior in the spring of 2019. So will Tyler Chambers (46 of 89, .517, 13 doubles) and Elise Kratkoczki (45 of 780, .562) and Taylor Towry (35 of 80, .438) and Alyssa Albrecht (20 of 47, .426). Seniors-to-be Camryn Veteto (31 of 73, .425, 12 doubles), Madison Miller (24 of 56, .429) and Michaela Ferguson (21 of 48, .438) can all return. Playing the the Greater South Shore Conference (GSSC) inflates those numbers, but HC's room for improvement probably isn't focused on the offense. They need a couple of pitchers to keep them in games against good teams. Kratkoczki (6-4, 2.88 ERA 58 strikeouts, 14 walks in 61 innings) was the best they had. But the HC pitching staff gave up 200 hits in 173 innings. The Lady Cats will go as far as their pitchers carry them in 2019.


5. (2A) Boone Grove (17-5)
23-4 (2017), 25-3 (2016), 24-4 (2015), 21-5 (2014)

PORTER TOWNSHIP: Boone led Andrean 4-1 and lost it all in the final inning of the regional championship game against Andrean. The 5-4 loss ended a steak of four 20-win seasons for the Wolves and derailed their state finals run. Junior pitcher Kellie Marcheshi (13-5, 1.99 ERA) comes back next spring and that means Boone will be good again and will defend their Porter County Conference
(PCC) championship. Boone's losses were to Kankakee Valley (26-5), Crown Point (25-6), Morgan Township (25-3), South Central (21-9), Hamilton Southeastern (20-7) and the one to Andrean (12-15-1). This isn't a great (.325 team batting average) offensive team outside of seniors-to-be Elise Richards (24 of 50, .480), Emily Zoll (29 of 69, .420) and Marcheshi (33 of 66, .500, 5 HRs, 30 RBIs). Boone should play a more difficult schedule. They play natural rivals CP, Portage and KV, but I'd like to see them add some more Duneland Athletic Conference (DAC) schools like Chesterton, LaPorte or Lake Central. Boone played just 22 times in 2018 so they surely attempted to play them in 2018 and lost games to the weather. But a tougher (or just a complete) schedule would benefit Boone in an effort to get downstate, which is very possible. Since Hanover Central moved up to 3A, Class 2A in NW Indiana isn't that difficult.

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Revised: July 07, 2018.