Northwest Indiana's High School 'Renegade' 2018,
Week-12 'Magnificent 7' Girls Softball Poll


A Special Report by Mark Smith

All Class A schools in the northern Indiana want to be visiting Harrison High School on the first Saturday in June. Lake Central and Chesterton both hope to visit 'the home of the Raiders' this weekend for the Class 4A Northern Semistate softball championship playoffs. (Photo by Mark Smith)

ST. JOHN (05-25-2018) The hurry up state tournament format (4 playoff games in eight days) was welcomed in by 90-degree weather in Northwest Indiana.

Fortunately, the heat of the May heat wave (temperatures in the 95-degree range) came on Sunday and Monday between the sectional and regional.

The cliche is "it's the same for both sides," but in the real world, it's very difficult to play in 40-50 degree weather all season and then play winner-take-all state tournament games in 90-degree weather.

Most players are in shape for that level of heat by the end of July, but not by the end of May.

In truth, the rankings held up in sectional play. In Class 4A, Lake Central (Sectional 1), Chesterton (Sectional 2) and Penn (Sectional 3) all won their titles.

Elsewhere in the north, Harrison (26-2) advanced to play Noblesville. Carmel and Hamilton Southeastern were eliminated at the sectional level. Leo (24-3) and Homestead (21-3) must play to get to the semistate. Class 4A No. 1 Center Grove (28-1) is alive in the south. Class 3A No.1 New Palestine (28-1) is still headed towards a second consecutive state championship.

The May heat wave moves out Tuesday and if regional games can't get through without any rain, the semistate weekend looks like it will feature the best weather of the season.

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

St. JOHN: LC earned the 4A Sectional 1 championship with a 3-2 win over Lowell, a 3-2 win over Kankakee Valley and a 4-2 win over defending champion Crown Point (25-6). Alexa Pinarski (19-2, 1.03 ERA) pitched complete games in four nights allowing just 16 hits in 22 innings with 19 sectional strikeouts and just three walks. The Indians' only losses are to Crown Point, Avon, Kankakee Valley and Franklin Central. Avon won its sectional. Franklin Central lost in sectional play to Martinsville (23-5) and Lake Central defeated CP (25-6) and KV (26-5). This isn't LC's best team ever, but Crown Point's 2017 state title team wasn't that school's 'best team ever' either. No doubt that LC justified their top ranking here, but they still need to beat Chesterton (22-5) for a third time in the Tuesday night regional final.

2. (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: Crown Point lost the 4A Sectional 1 championship game 4-2 to Lake Central, ending their season. The Bulldogs led 2-1 in the fifth inning when Delaney Adams, a good-looking freshman outfield prospect who batted .409 (9 of 22) in limited duty, dropped a two-out fly ball, allowing the tying and eventual winning run to score. CP was better-than-expected in 2018. They had five freshmen in the batting order in the sectional title game. The Bulldogs used either freshman Madi Young (11-1, 2.85) or Madi Elish (14-5, 1.70) as the starting pitcher in all 31 games. LC won 2-out-of-3 from Crown Point, defeating both Elish and Young. But CP graduates only three seniors who played in 2018. The Bulldogs' losses were to Lake Central (26-4), Harrison (26-2), New Palestine (28-1), Hamilton Southeastern (20-7) and Kankakee Valley (25-4). The future is bright for the Bulldogs, but the CP girls did have to watch Lake Central and Chesterton play the regional on the Bulldogs' home field on May 29.

3. (4A) Chesterton (25-5)

25-7 (2017), 17-8 (2016), 17-9 (2015), 18-14 (2014), 22-5 (2013), 21-11 (2012)

CHESTERTON: At this writing, the moment of truth for Chesterton had yet to arrive. The Trojans defeated Hobart 3-0, Portage 9-2 and Valparaiso 6-2 to win 4A Sectional 2 (Chesterton's 10th sectional championship) on their home field. All year Chesterton knew they had virtual certainty they'd be playing the regional one champion the night of May 29. The Chesterton losses were to
Lake Central 1-0 and 10-4 and to Crown Point 3-2 and 2-1. They also had a final week 3-2 nonconference loss to Munster. But in the sectional championship game Lexi Benko pitched a complete game five-hitter and hit a sixth inning home run. A record of 25-5 is outstanding, but the Trojans won 25 last year, too. Then they lost in the regional title game in 2017 and the Trojans surely would like to go one step beyond.

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

WHEATFIELD: Kankakee Valley is a victim of the IHSAA's 'success factor.' After two state finals berths in 3A, KV moved up to 4A and were dropped into 4A Sectional 1 with Crown Point (25-6) and Lake Central (26-4). Kankakee Valley, which would still be playing if they were still in Class 3A, lost 3-2 in the sectional semifinals.

If the goal is fair competition, it isn't fair to have a public school facing schools three times its size for two seasons simply because they were successful the two previous years. The 'success factor' which moves the best state tournament teams up in class for two seasons to be 'fair' to other teams in that class was designed to keep private schools with no enrollment boundaries from dominating the state tournament. The problem is that students graduate and smaller public schools (especially semi-rural ones like KV) cant 'attract' (or recruit) players from other districts to maintain their success level.

KV graduates five seniors starters, all of who batted .385 or better, not counting starting pitcher Emma Maple (15-5, 1.82 ERA) and they remain in 4A in 2019. 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), but they will need pitchers. Freshman Mary Kate Schultz (6-0, 1.94 ERA, 30 strikeouts in 43 innings) will surely get lots of 2019 innings.

But Crown Point (enrollment 2,815) and Lake Central (3,233 students) will still be in 4A Sectional 1 with KV (1,094 teens). No one in the program would back down from a challenge, but it's almost like the program is being punished for being successful in 2016 and 2017.

5. (4A) LaPorte (21-10)
17-12 (2017), 21-8 (2016), 19-12 (2015), 14-14 (2014), 12-20 (2013)

LaPORTE: Almost. A 3-2 loss to Penn ended the LaPorte season in the 4A Sectional 3 championship game, but the Slicers led 2-0 after six innings. The Kingsmen smacked out four hits against Ashley Wolfenbarger in the top of the seventh inning to prevent a LaPorte upset. The Slicers were three outs from a major upset when Penn rallied to end their season. It was a good year for the Slicers. Not great but good. LaPorte was 6-8 in the Duneland Athletic Conference (DAC) and 15-2 against everybody else. LaPorte batted .393 as a team with 51 stolen bases and they graduate only three seniors. The Slicers return quite a bit, including Shelby Linn (47 of 96, .490) and Olivia Zarantonello (38 of 87, .437) but they'll also be looking for a pitcher to plug in the middle of a quality team of position players. And they'll be looking for a way to deal with Penn in 4A Sectional 3.

6. (7A) Boone Grove (17-5)
23-4 (2017), 25-3 (2016), 24-4 (2015) 21-5 (2014)

PORTER TOWNSHIP: Boone won its 2A sectional for the fourth year in a row, topping North Judson 10-2, Wheeler 3-1 and Winamac 5-3. Junior pitcher Kellie Marcheshi (13-4, 1.99 ERA) pitched three complete games, striking out a total of 34 and walking just 7 in 21 innings. Marcheschi also finished sectional play with a batting average of .500 (33 of 66) for the season. Boone's losses were to Kankakee Valley (26-5), Crown Point (25-6), Morgan Township (25-3), South Central (21-9) and Hamilton Southeastern (20-7). The Wolves split with Morgan on the season and that's part of the reason they're here. It's honestly hard to judge the quality of Porter County Conference (PCC) or Greater South Shore Conference (GSSC) teams because of their schedules, which obviously aren't at the level of 4A schools. But Boone did win the sectional for the fourth year in a row. Few seniors leave school having played on four sectional championships.

7. (4A) Lowell (15-10)
16-11 (2017), 7-15 (2016), 13-17 (2015), 16-9 (2014)

LOWELL: Lowell got the bad draw and lost the opening 4A playoff game to Lake Central (26-4) by a 3-2 score. It was the same respectable effort the Devils laid down in almost every game this season and that's why they're in the seventh slot in the poll. Lowell lost 10-0 to KV and 12-1 to Lake Central and 4-0 to Twin Lakes. Every other loss was by three runs or less. The Devils were 0-2 against KV and a combined 0-5 against Chesterton, Lake Central and CP. I don't think Lowell lost to a smaller school other than Twin Lakes. Lowell graduates six seniors next month, but one of them was not pitcher Hannah Stanley (11-6, 2.68) who has two more seasons. The entire Lowell pitching staff returns for 2019. Lowell has to keep the faith from a post-season standpoint. KV will not be as strong in 2019 and they leave 4A Sectional 1 in 2020. Lake Central will be looking for some new pitching in 2019. Crown Point returns eight starters and both pitchers, but maybe the Red Devil won't draw them. The truth is, Lowell is a relatively small Class 4A school in a sectional with two very big Class 4A schools. The Devils need to be good and lucky.

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Revised: May 30, 2018.