AURORA — Weather buffs and Northwest softball fans know that the saying goes “Thunder and lightning,” but for the Vikings in the Central 10 Conference Tournament, it was frequent lightning and one huge thunderclap that paved the way to three wins and their first-ever conference championship.
The Class B No. 5-rated Vikings downed Seward 12-2 in just four innings to win the championship game.
The Vikings’ offense dominated the Bluejays, striking for 11 hits with seven walks in a game ended in the Northwest portion of the fourth inning by the 10-run mercy rule.
Missy Knecht led the Vikings with three hits, while Laura Springer reached on three walks and scored two runs.
Northwest scored five runs in the first inning and added five more runs in the second inning to put the game out of reach.
Ashley Scherer held the Bluejays to six hits for the win.
Northwest’s thunderous moment came in the sixth inning of the semifinal match against Class C No. 1 Fairbury when Missy Knecht connected for a grand slam home run.
The Vikings entered the sixth inning tied 3-3 when Mikaela Keene reached on an error with one out. Laura Springer followed with a bunt single, and Hannah Rathke loaded the bases with yet another bunt.
Following an out, Knecht hit a mammoth shot over the left-center field fence which cleared the bases for a 7-3 lead the Vikings would not surrender.
Northwest coach Dave Prokesh was not surprised by Knecht’s blast.
“Big time players make big time plays in big games,” Prokesh said of his senior lead-off hitter.
Prokesh felt that Fairbury played extremely well in getting a 2-0 lead over the Vikings.
“Fairbury is an outstanding team,” Prokesh said. “But one thing about our team this year is how resilient we’ve been. We shot ourselves in the foot early with a couple of baserunning gaffes, but we believe that our defense will keep us in games, and our offense will find a way to come through.”
Northwest started the day with an 8-0 shutout of Aurora as freshman Alyssa Vanosdall went the distance to get the win, a detail that Prokesh felt was a huge key to the Vikings’ championship run.
“We knew coming in that Alyssa would have to pitch our first game and come up big for us.” Prokesh said. “We gave Alyssa the ball and she was outstanding as she induced hitter after hitter to hit ground balls that we were able to make plays on.”
Scherer had three hits in the game and Knecht two, including a first-inning triple.
The Vikings finished the regular season with a sparkling 25-1 record and go into the Class B, District 5 tournament at Hastings as the No. 1 seed.
Aurora (14-10).....................000 000—0 3 1
Northwest (23-1)........................202 013—8 10 1
WP—Alyssa Vanosdall. LP—Megan Howe. 3B—NW, Knecht.
Fairbury (18-6)......................001 011 0—3 7 3
Northwest (24-1)........................100 123 x—7 7 3
WP—Ashley Scherer. LP—Anna Mach. HR—F, Michaela Barber. NW, Missy Knecht.
Seward (15-6)....................200 0—2 6 0
Northwest (25-1)..............550 2—12 11 2
WP—Ashley Scherer. LP—Skyler Peterson. 2B—S, Alyssa Winterfield. NW, Maddie Friedt. 3B—S, Sarah Moody.