SPRINGFIELD, MO. – Friday was a mixed bag of emotions for Ella Stichling.
While she was ecstatic she got the chance to represent Northwest softball at state for the first tie in 30 years and she was on base two of the three times a Lions runner reached, there was plenty of melancholy in the team's 10-0, six-inning loss to Raymore-Peculiar in a Class 4 stater semifinal at the Killian Sports Complex.
“These are the seniors last games and we just all want to do well for them, so it was really nice to try and do my part,” Stichling said. “I'm glad I got to contribute something. Their pitcher had a really good change-up and she worked outside a lot. I don't like (the loss), but we're here and it's something we've done together.”
Stichling drew a third inning walk and had back-to-back hits with junior right fielder Lane Petry in the fifth, but the high-flying Northwest would get no more off Raymore-Peculiar senior pitcher Camryn Stickel. In addition to the two hits and the walk, Stickel struck out 10 Northwest hitters using a varied arsenal of change-ups and breaking balls and, eventually, rise balls.
Panthers coach James Brown said that the team adopted a strategy in facing the power-hitting Lions and, behind Stickel, it worked wonders. The coach said he knew full-well that Northwest came into play averaging 10.8 runs per game and had scored 58 runs in its four games leading up to the semifinal.
“We'd talked to a few of the St. Louis teams that had played them, I think Eureka really was our only common opponent,” Brown said. “The scouting report we had was that they can swing it and to stay away from them. We threw a lot of change-ups. We tried to establish that early, get in their heads and get their timing off. Camo threw a heck of a game. We're pretty battle-tested. We knew, coming out of St. Louis, they were probably the best hitting team over there. They can smack it and, fortunately, the didn't today.”
With the offense for Northwest (26-5, No. 7 in the STLhighschoolsports.com large-schools rankings) on lock down, Raymore-Peculiar chipped away on offense. Seven different Panthers drove in runs Friday.
Three runs apiece in the third and fourth innings and a pair in the fifth and sixth closed out the semifinal and put the Panthers into the state title game against Blue Springs South (19-6) at 10 a.m. Saturday. Raymore-Peculiar also owns the 2002 Class 4 state title.
The loss put Northwest into the Class 4 third place game against Rock bridge Friday afternoon.
Still, all things considered, Lions coach Dan Davison said he felt nothing but pride for what the team has accomplished this season in getting back to the state tournament for the first time since the 1989 season, when the program took third in Class 3A-4A.
“We got frustrated fairly early today when they pushed the lead to five or six and we were out of our game plan,” Davison said. “They have a great pitcher and she battled all day long for them. This wasn't our best effort but we'll see. I thought Maddie (Welker) pitched a great game. I thought our defense didn't play the game we normally do. It's frustrating but we've got to bounce back and we have an opportunity to win our last game together. It's been a special and a historic year for our school and our program and it would be really nice to win our last game.”
Northwest has also finished fourth in 1987 and owns a state championship in 1986.
“This is totally special,” Stichling said. “We haven't been here in 30 years and we get to be here with the girls we love, it's still amazing.”