Northwest Indiana's High School 'Renegade' 2019, Final
'Magnificent 7' Girls Softball Poll ... and a look ahead to 2020


A Special Report by Mark Smith

Crown Point Caitlyn Phillips (middle, with the 'regional' plaque) is believed to be the first Crown Point girl to start on regional championship teams in two different sports (basketball and softball) in the same calendar year. CP basketball finished with a 28-1 record. CP softball went 29-5. (Photo by Mark Smith)

CROWN POINT (6-30-2019) After watching Leo run away from Crown Point 11-1 in the 4A Semi-state championship game (actually, well after that) I realized how spoiled those of us who watch Northwest Indiana softball are.

Speaking only for myself, I expect the winner of the annual Lake Central-Crown Point sectional game to reach the Class 4A finals. Of course, I expect the Cubs to get to the World Series every year now, too.

LC’s been good for 30 years. Every year. High expectations are the norm for as long as I’ve been around. But I should remember that softball was a losing proposition at Crown Point 20 years ago. The girls were wonderful, but the teams lost. I know because I was there.

So even though present day CP has a ridiculous 195-24 record and class after class full of talented players over the last seven years, they can get 10-runned any day.

With that said, I don’t attend the school of thought that says that winning games and conferences and championships is important until you lose and then its suddenly "just a game."
This month I watched the US National soccer team crush some over-matched country 13-0. They celebrated each goal like it was New Year’s Eve with choreographed clown moves and limbo slides. They excused their own behavior but no one took the explanations seriously. It was embarrassing to the sport.

Admittedly, I don't have the universal middle ground between over-celebrating wins and walking away from losses without letting it crush you.

I really don’t.

I admire the maturity of players who can accept a crushing loss in a season-defining game. I guess I wish the celebrations after victories were a little more subdued. The vivid contrast between the celebrating winners and the sorrowful losers is "all part of the game" until your team is on the losing side of said game. Losing is the larger part of the game.

On this site I have thousands of words under my name and I own every one of them, right or wrong. Smart or dumb. Silly or deeply heart felt. They’re there to be revisited years later in the view of hindsight. I can't say "they’re only words.”

I can't accentuate, elaborate or apologize. The thoughts are all mine, mistakes and all. And there are plenty of mistakes. Plenty of ‘losses.’

That’s the painful, poignant beauty of it all. I own the wins and I admit, I try to forget the ‘losses’ quickly. I’m no better than you.

Time for my annual Indiana softball complaints. Regular readers of this space know what they are.

The Indiana high school varsity softball season cannot begin in late March and end on June 8. We schedule an actual portion of the regular season at a time when we are virtually certain the weather (especially in NW Indiana) would not allow Eskimos to play. And we end the season in the first week of June, refusing to use the last three weeks of June when the weather is good. The school year does not actually end until June 30.

There is no reason playoff games can't be played in the fourth week of June. I have never heard a real explanation other than the IHSAA wants to end the all spring sports by mid-June. It can be changed any year. And the scheduling of regional championship games on Tuesday night is the IHSAA screaming to softball coaches and athletes that their sport is not important.

As an old person, I know that for years, softball regional championships were played on weekends... Until the IHSAA decided to rush them and force visiting teams to travel significant distances for regional play on school nights.

For a brief time, the IHSAA scheduled baseball regional championships on Tuesday nights. No one liked it and the idea lasted less than five years.

I’d like to see four team Saturday softball Regionals and two team Saturday softball Semi-states just like baseball has. Unless we’re saying that softball isn’t as important as baseball.

We’re not saying that, right?

Here’s five teams to look at for 2020. Not necessarily the five best teams. Just five teams to watch.

1. (4A) Crown Point (29-5)
25-6 (2018), 30-2 (2017), 28-2 (2016), 29-3 (2015), 29-1 (2014), 25-5 (2013), 25-8 (2012)

CROWN POINT: Crown Point’s season was highlighted by a win over arch-rival Lake Central at the sectional. By the time you read this, they will probably have forgotten about the 11-1 loss to Leo in the Semi-state championship game. The Crown Point 2019 losses were to Marist (38-4), Leo (25-2), Munster (25-7) and Lake Central (26-4) twice.

The Bulldogs have a lot of starting position players to replace in 2020, but let me shorthand this. Crown Point returns all three pitchers, Madi Elish (14-2), Madi Young (9-1) and Brinkley Kita (6-2) and starting catcher Zoie Rettig from a sectional and regional championship team. Softball is a pitcher-catcher game and CP will have a lot of experience returning. I’ve been spoiled by what CP has done in the last decade (195-24 in the last seven years), but expectations will again be high for CP and the season will pivot on the games against Lake Central.

2. (4A) Lake Central (26-4)
29-5 (12018), 3-9 (2017), 24-7 (2016), 29-7-1 (2015), 20-9 (2014), 23-7 (2013)

St. JOHN: Lake Central was No. 1 in the state for a time this year, but the 2-0 sectional loss to Crown Point had to leave them somewhat disappointed. But 2020 will be a very good year. The Indians bring back super strikeout pitching in 2019 soph Peyton Pepkowski (9-2, 0.96 ERA, 129 strikeouts, 7 walks in 66 innings) and 2019 freshman Amanda Ardema (7-0, 0.64 ERA, 88 strikeouts, seven walks in 44 innings).

The Indians also bring back .400 hitters Alexis Johnson (39 of 85, .459), Sydney Doloszycki (35 of 85, .412), Alexus Reese (32 of 73, .438), and .300 hitters in Morgan Hoppe (30 of 82, .366) and Ardema (21 of 76, .350). I say this every year, but the greatest record in Northwest Indiana sports is over by Lake Central. LC has won at least 20 varsity softball games for 31 years in a row and 2020 should certainly be no different.

3. (4A) Munster (22-7)
2018 (15-11), 2017 (20-7), 2016 (23-11), 2015 (22-7-1)

MUNSTER: Munster had an outstanding season, but they were in the same sectional with Crown Point and Lake Central. As soon as the draw came out and the Mustangs had to face both LC and CP, Munster had a slim chance to survive. The Lady Ponies need a break at the sectional this coming year. The Mustangs will ride again in 2020 with all-state pitcher Emily Dato (11-4, 1.53 ERA) who struck out 162 (and walked only 13) in just 101 innings.

Munster returns Paige Vukadinovich (.479, 45 of 94) who had 11 extra base hits and 13 stolen bases in 16 attempts. Haley Sullivan (.323, 30 of 93) led Munster with six homers in 2019 as a sophomore. Dato hit .340 (26 of 85) with five home runs. Let's not leave out shortstop Daija Williams (.337, 30 of 89) and Jordan Duff (.340, 34 of 100). Did I leave out Holly Kaim (.329, 26 of 79)? She's  another of the eight varsity sophomores who played in 2019.

Munster will have a good regular season, but the sectional is overloaded. Until a couple of the Hammond schools merge (creating a Class 4A Hammond school) and bump Crown Point back to Sectional 2 where they belong, Munster, LC and CP will battle it out for the one and only ticket to the local 4A regional.

4. (3A) Hanover Central (21-4-1)
2018 (17-12), 2017 (25-4), 2016 (24-5), 2015 (22-11), 2014 (29-5)

CEDAR LAKE: Hanover went 14-0 in the Greater South Shore Conference (GSSC) and they then won sectional and regional championships.

HC had a big winning year with just three varsity seniors. Elise Kratkowski (7-1, 3.00 ERA) and Taylor Towry (6-2, 3.55 ERA) return for their senior seasons and they’ll be backed by a high scoring, barn-storming squad that doesn’t mind winning 8-7.

Accepting that the numbers are a tad inflated due to 14 GSSC games, big number batters include Kratkoczki (37 of 75, .493, 30 stolen bases), Tyler Chambers (47 of 94, .500, 13 doubles), Ashtyn Barnett (376 of 79, .466, 18 doubles, 5 HRs), Leah Mokos (42 of 92, 494) and Alyssa Albrecht (40 of 86, .465).

With all that said, Hanover lost to Yorktown 15-3 at the Class 3A Semi-state and Yorktown lost 10-0 to New Palestine in the state final. Hanover wins a lot, but 3A is a far more difficult bracket than Class 2A, where HC won state in 2004.

HC is 138-41 in the last six seasons, but they don't play Crown Point and Lake Central. To win in the post-season, the Lady Cats probably need to.

5. (2A) Boone Grove (22-7)
2018 (17-5), 23-4 (2017), 25-3 (2016), 24-4 (2015), 21-5 (2014)

PORTER TOWNSHIP: Boone was 22-7, but they did it with seven seniors including all-state pitcher Kellie Marcheschi (22-4, 1.04 ERA) who has been a mainstay the last three years. Boone also has a couple of statistically wonderful players who are not close to being seniors.

Freshman catcher Kailyn Coates (39 of 96, .406) had seven home runs and 32 RBIs in her varsity debut. Freshman Erica Hoffman (31 of 74, .419) scored 29 runs. The future is bright for some time where position players are concerned.

But with Marcheschi graduated, Boone immediately needs one or two pitchers. Marcheschi won 22 games last year and Boone won all 22 of them.

This can go hard one or two ways. High school softball is full of situations where a freshman pitcher came into a talented team and the squad rolled. But if they can't find a pitcher, Boone won't be a Porter County Conference (PCC) contender and they won't win the sectional or regional, even in 2A.

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