Before the season began, shades of doubt loomed over Wichita Northwest softball. A year ago, a stacked, senior-laden team found an early exit in regionals, missing the 6A state tournament.
Entering this season, a relatively inexperienced group was tasked with just hoping to keep pace with the regular season achievements of the 2011 version of the Grizzlies.
“I told the younger kids they just have to toughen up,” said Merri Copeland, Northwest head coach. “They just have to learn, and we have to quit making mistakes.”
Northwest has answered every challenge presented before them to date. The string of success continued in a doubleheader with Kapaun Mt. Carmel, as the Grizzlies rolled to 7-5 and 12-2 victories.
Kapaun plated one run in the sixth inning of game one to bring the score to 7-5, but Mary Henning shut down the Crusader offense in the seventh with three strikeouts to preserve the win.
Henning was dominant in game two.
Kapaun (7-5) did not record a hit on Henning until the fourth inning, as a mix between her curveball and riseball baffled the opposition. The Crusaders left a runner in scoring position three times through five innings, but never advanced further.
Meanwhile, Northwest’s offense consistently produced.
Northwest plated two in the first inning. In the second, Cassidy Harbert pounded a solo shot to put the Grizzlies up 3-0.
“I just got a piece of it,” Harbert said. “I was just trying to not pop it up, because I’ve been working on that.”
The homer would turn out to be enough to fend off Kapaun, but the Grizzlies continued. Northwest scored at least one run in every inning up through the sixth, where the Grizzlies crossed the plate three times for a 12-2 run-rule victory.
“We had a lot of rallies, and that was awesome,” said Henning. “We kept scoring. It was really great.”
Harbert added an RBI on a sacrifice fly in the fifth inning and brought home another with a single in the sixth for a three-RBI game.
The doubleheader sweep improved Northwest to 12-0 on the campaign. The Grizzlies have not scored less than six runs in a game, while the defense has allowed an average of less than two runs a contest.
The sizzling start to the season has Northwest playing with confidence – one that was lacking in a regional loss a year ago. Despite the youth, the Grizzlies seem to have harnessed it this season.“They’re just a good group of kids. They work hard, and they’re going to go out there and do the best they can,” Copeland said. “Only time will tell. We don’t know. They have a lot of potential – it’s just whether they can get everything going at the same time.”