HUDSON, Mich. — Led by a juggernaut junior class, the Whiteford softball team is state bound for the third consecutive year after the Bobcats captured a Division 4 regional title Saturday.
Whiteford (23-12-3) defeated North Adams-Jerome 9-3 in a regional final at Hudson High School. The Bobcats, who have seven juniors in the starting lineup, banged out 12 hits and broke the game open with a five-run sixth inning.
Junior pitcher Lindsey Walker struggled with her command all game but was able to bear down at big moments. Walker struck out seven batters, including two in the final inning to seal it.
Junior third baseman Baylee Baldwin went 4 for 5 and scored three runs. Junior shortstop Karsyn Berns-Moore went 2 for 2 with an RBI and scored one run.
Junior Madison Durden drove in three runs, including a two-run single in the fifth inning. Junior third baseman Milly Iott also drove in two runs in the key sixth inning to put the Bobcats up 9-0.
VIDEO: Whiteford returns to state
Whiteford Bobcats' Lindsey Walker pitches during the state championship last season.
Junior right fielder Jessica Link also had two singles and scored a run against North Adams starter Samantha Brown.
“I have a good bunch of juniors,” longtime Whiteford coach Kris Hubbard said. “We only have one senior. It makes a difference because they got [to state] as freshmen and sophomores and they know what to expect.”
Walker, who has been the ace since she was a freshman, walked 12 batters but stranded 13 runners on base.
“Lindsey struggled a little today,” Hubbard said. “But she came up big when we needed it. That says something about her mental toughness. She knows she was struggling. But our defense will keep her in the game. We had the offense going as well. It's a team game. All's well that ends well.”
Walker also got the offense going with a solo home run in the first inning.
The Bobcats had a 4-0 lead entering the sixth when they batted around to put the game away.
North Adams-Jerome (24-5) finally broke Walker's shutout bid with a run in the sixth before adding two more in the seventh. Walker held the Rams to four hits.
Whiteford has now reached a state quarterfinal three consecutive seasons. They made the state title game last season and fell 8-0 to Indian River Inland Lakes.
“It's awesome,” Walker said. “I'm so excited. I want to go back to [the state semifinals] so bad. I remember my freshman year being in the quarterfinals and I didn't even know what it was. And last year we got to the state finals and I learned. I'm ready to get back there.”
Whiteford will play either No. 3 Kalamazoo Christian or No. 10 Centerville on Tuesday in Battle Creek.
“I don't worry about the other teams. If they get this far they are going to be good,” Hubbard said. “It goes back to who we play during the season. We play seven games against D-2 schools and 11 against D-3 schools. It helps us here because we're used to good hitting and pitching. We'll go have some fun and see what happens.”
Walker's team-high eighth home run of the season just cleared the fence in left-field with two outs in the first.
“That was huge,” Hubbard said. “It let everyone relax and know we were going to score.”
The Bobcats, who made solid defensive plays all game long, then made up for two first-inning errors. Link threw out a runner at the plate and second baseman Katie Lipp ended the inning with a diving catch.
Walker pitched out of trouble in the second when she walked three and stranded all three.
“I was struggling,” Walker said. “But I have my team to back me up. We had a solid lead and that helped me out a lot. I just have to focus harder. It's so nice to have that offense behind me.”
The Bobcats then went up 2-0 when Baldwin, who had singled, scored on Durden's sacrifice bunt.
Walker allowed her first hit and another walk in the third but got out of the jam with a strikeout and groundout. Walker kept the Rams off the board in the fourth after she covered the plate on her wild pitch, tagging out the runner.
Hubbard said Walker changed her pitching motion under a new pitching coach this year.
“She will be better in the long run for it,” Hubbard said.
Walker said she is still adapting to the new motion. “It's helping me a lot. I'm still getting it,” she said.
Whiteford broke out with two runs on three hits in the fifth to go up by four. Durden's single up the middle scored Berns-Moore and Baldwin.
Walker stranded two more runners, who both walked, in the fifth.
The Bobcats then put it out of reach in the sixth. Link scored on a sacrifice fly from Berns-Moore. The next two runs scored on a wild pitch and passed ball to make it 7-0. Iott then drove in pinch runner Natalia DiTerlizzi and Durden for the nine-run cushion.
In the regional semifinal earlier in the day, the Bobcats overpowered Burr Oak 14-1. Whiteford had 16 hits in the game shortened to five innings because of the mercy rule.
Walker struck out eight batters and allowed just one hit. The Bobcats scored five runs in the first before adding four in the second, two in the third, and three in the fourth. Seven of the nine Whiteford batters each had two hits. Burr Oak (12-16) managed just one hit and one run in the first inning.
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