Northwest Indiana's High School 'Renegade' 2021,
'Top-5' Final Girls Softball Poll ... and a look ahead to 2022


A Special Report by Mark Smith

Multi-year starting players Anna Holloway (left) of Crown Point and Mikayla Creasbaum of Lake Central are headed for college now and CP and LC have positions to fill before next season. Will these two schools battle it out again for the Class 4A regional championship? That's only one softball question for the spring of 2022. (Photo by Mark Smith)

CROWN POINT (6-30-2021) We’re either at the end or in the midst of a period of time where the largest south Lake County schools dominated high school softball in Northwest Indiana.

Easy question: Will Lake Central and Crown Point remain the two dominant teams?

CP won the 4A state title in 2017. Lake Central went to the state finals in 2018. Crown Point won the 4A regional title in 2019 and Lake Central reached the 4A state finals this year. This two school domination can't go on forever.

Or can it? Lake Central and Crown Point are 3,000-kid schools and they are family magnets. I don't know who is coming in as freshmen at CP, LC or anywhere else. But there’s no way schools the size of LC and CP have nobody coming up in their system. And I won't know until the season starts.

For example. The number one basketball player in Northwest Indiana is Crown Point’s Jessica Carrothers. She averaged 21 points a game as a freshman and was all-area. Carrothers had the ball as CP won seven consecutive playoff games last winter. I have followed CP sports since the 20th Century and I had no idea Carrothers was in the system and coming to CP the year before she arrived. I’m sure the coaches knew, but they didn’t broadcast it.

My point? At most high schools, especially the larger ones like Crown Point and Lake Central, most of us do not know who is coming in. Lake Central’s Jolie Adams, who batted .400, is one of the better defensive center fielders I have seen in many years. She was a freshman this past year and I had never heard of Jolie until LC began playing.

So, everything you’re about to read here can be changed by one freshman, one transfer or one player who did not play in 2021 for any of a dozen reasons.

So my ‘look ahead’ here is based solely on girls who played in 2021.

So, with that said, 2022 looks like a year of big change. Consolidation is here in Hammond and Gavit, Clark and Morton and Hammond have been dissolved into Morton and Hammond Central, both schools of about 1,800. Both should eventually be competitive in softball, but I doubt they will be in 2022. I do not know if Hammond Central and Morton will both be 4A for softball, but if they are, both show up in 4A Sectional 1. I also don’t know who will transfer into the new Hammond Central.

If my kid attended (or was an eighth grader scheduled to attend) a school which was, let's just say, not state of the art (translation: a raggedy old building with old, rusty facilities) and I had a chance to transfer them to a brand new high school, I might do that, especially if that kid was an athlete.

The big shakeup comes in Class 3A. Clark, Hammond and Gavit are obviously all gone from 3A Sectional 17 so all that’s left is Calumet, River Forest, Griffith and Hanover Central. Sectional 17 may have only four teams because Sectional 18 has Bremen, Culver Academies, Knox, Plymouth, Kankakee Valley and John Glenn. KV could move to Sectional 17.

Class 3A Sectional 19 only has four teams (Clay, Marian, St. Joseph’s and New Prairie) so nobody is moving from there.

Time for my annual Indiana softball complaints.

I was limited to home for a lot of games in the 2020 and 2021 school year so I watched many on TV. Big thanks to anyone who tried to air games in many different ways.

I am grateful to everyone who worked on the games, but I have an old complaint. You only need one camera to cover basketball and football. Just keep the camera moving back and forth and it’s a good show. Football and basketball coverage is strong.

But you cannot cover softball with one camera. If you shoot through the screen we cannot see the ball. You must have at least two cameras. The truth is, you need three. You need a camera behind (or in) both dugouts to show the pitcher and the batter up close. Plus the center field camera showing each pitch.

I can hear folks in the know saying, "That’s too much trouble. We don't have all those people."

Well, then your coverage is mediocre. Every single baseball and softball game on TV above the high school level (and the state high school finals broadcast) has a camera behind the center field fence showing home plate from behind the pitcher. That’s been the basic softball/baseball television shot for over 75 years. It is a must.

Two or three cameras also allow one to focus in and out when it's not live. You can show fans in the stands or players sitting in the dugout. Many broadcasts I watched this spring had such a non-focused full field shot that was so far from the girls that all I could do is listen to the play-by-play guy.

I know it's more costly to have two cameras (or three), two camera people (or three) and a director. But local TV video outlets are asking advertisers and, in some cases, viewers to pay for the broadcast. Okay, then. If you want me to pay for the games, I understand but I’ve got to be able to see the pitcher and the batter and some plays. And please. I’m begging you. Please do not shoot through the screen. We can't see the ball.

I also have a television question for the IHSAA. The four Indiana state championship softball games were pay-per-view on the IHSAA Champions Network. The four Indiana state champion baseball games were free on the IHSAA Network. Why? I understand the pay-per-view thing. The IHSAA certainly lost money during the pandemic. We all did. I’m only asking why the baseball games were free (I watched two of them live) and the softball games were pay-per-view.

And while I’m complaining, let me dig up an old one. Crown Point played in a seven team sectional so the championship game was scheduled for Friday. It was rained out - not a shocker in late May. The title game was played Saturday morning and the winner (CP) then had to play the regional at Lake Central the next Tuesday. I have little idea why regional championship softball games are on Tuesday night. Had CP vs. Lowell been rained out again Saturday, the winner would have had to play a sectional championship game on Monday and regional championship game on Tuesday.

LC and CP are neighbor schools. What about Guerin Catholic and Norwell? Northwestern (outside Kokomo) and South Bend St. Joseph’s? The only reason I have for a regional championship game being played on a school night is that shortening the softball tourney takes the championship games off the same weekend as the baseball championship games.

I think it belittles girls softball to force schools to play a regional on a Tuesday school night. I think both baseball and softball are squeezed into short seasons with weather-related restrictions. Baseball and softball could start in mid-March and extend to the end of June. There is no athletics-related reason why they don’t. In Illinois and Michigan the softball regular season runs through the end of May and the post-season playoffs don’t begin until June.

Why that is not the case in Indiana is something I don’t know.

Here’s five teams to watch next spring. Not necessarily the five best and not necessarily ranked in any order. But five teams that will be in the spotlight come March of 2022.

1. (4A) Lake Central (31-2)
26-4 (2019), 29-5 (2018), 3-9 (2017), 24-7 (2016), 29-7-1 (2015), 20-9 (2014), 23-7 (2013)

St. JOHN: Lake Central will start 2022 as Northwest Indiana’s top team. They return pitcher Amanda Aardema (6-1, 0.95 ERA, 64 strikeouts in 44 innings) for her third varsity season. Amanda is not an especially hard thrower by elite standards, but she is steady and experienced. And she should have top support in the field and at the plate.

The 2021 LC junior class included big time shortstop Sydney Doloszycki (44 of 94, .468, 29 RBIs in 33 games), outfielders Kiley Conner (31 of 81, .395, 4 homers, 24 RBIs), Bree Mitchell (25 of 73, .342, 16 extra base hits in 33 games), and second baseman Katie O’Drobinak (20 of 75, .307, 4 homers), and the pitcher Aardema (25 of 72, .347). But the not-so-secret weapon for LC was freshman center fielder Jolie Adams (40 of 95, .421, 31 runs scored) who was probably the best defensive center fielder in NW Indiana.

LC returns two potential all-state players in Doloszycki and Adams and at least three other girls who could be all-area. Here’s the problem for LC and it’s the problem you want to have. The Indians beat everybody in 2021 until the 4-1 state finals loss to Roncalli. LC beat Marist, who was the Illinois 4A state champ. And LC has won at least 20 games for 32 years in a row, a record that unfortunately, gets little attention. The Indians should be favored to beat everybody in the region in 2022. Can they do it again?

2. (4A) Munster (25-7)
2019 (22-7), 2018 (15-11), 2017 (20-7), 2016 (23-11), 2015 (22-7-1)

MUNSTER: Here’s a team that could reject Lake Central and Crown Point come playoff time. When you look at pitching, Munster returns 2021 sophomore Mady Kindy (9-2, 2.53 ERA, 63 strikeouts and just 12 walks in 89 innings) and freshman Emily Siurek (10-5, 60 strikeouts in 72 innings). If both improve, the Lady Ponies will be set.

Munster graduated six seniors last June but they return the core of their batting order in Siurek (35 of 66, .379), Charlize Lorenz (43 of 102, .422, 11 doubles, 20 stolen bases), 2021 freshman starter Kylie Madura (23 of 57, 404, 20 RBIs, nine stolen bases in nine attempts) and team bat leader Paige Vukadinovich (52 of 100, .520, 15 extra base hits and 36 RBIs). I don’t now much about Emily Lyza (13 of 46, .283) but she scored 16 runs, had three triples and eight stolen bases.

There’s a lot of horse power here. They should be the favorite in the Northwest Crossroads Conference (NCC) and they should win 20 games. Munster traditionally plays Lake Central in the first week of the season and then in sectional play. Class 4A Sectional 1 will certainly change with the Hammond school consolidations, but it will still come down to LC and Munster come sectional time.

The pitching has to keep them in the game against the bigger schools (translated: Lake Central). Several teams (Including Kankakee Valley and Andrean) graduated their number one pitcher from 2021. Lake Central and CP have dominated local Class 4A softball for a half dozen years, but both graduated their top pitcher from 2021. This could be the year for the Mustangs to break through in the postseason.

3. (4A) Valparaiso (16-8)
2019 (12-12), 2018 (12-8), 2017 (12-10), 2016 (15-13), 2015 (5-20)

VALPARAISO: If Munster can't get by Lake Central, maybe Valparaiso can get by Crown Point in 4A Sectional 2. Charlotte Dombrowski (12-6, 2.56 ERA, 152 strikeouts in 134 innings) was the number one pitcher for the Vikings all year and she should be again in her senior year. Dombrowksi isn’t a flame thrower, but with good defense, she’ll again win twice as many as she loses.

Valpo graduated just three seniors, so most of the batting order returns. Watch out for big time catcher Paiton Iliff (45 of 81, .556), an all Duneland Athletic Conference (DAC) all-star who smoked out 11 doubles and six home runs in just 24 games. Marley Nagy (36 of 84, .429) cracked 10 doubles and five homers in 24 games and Dombrowski (26 of 77, .338) also brings a good bat to the plate.

Look out for Brooke Corneil (25 of 75, .333) and Hannah Welch (20 of 71, .268, 3 homers, 20 runs scored). Valparaiso should have beaten Crown Point at the 2021 sectional. They led 3-2 with two out in the seventh inning, but they lost 5-3. Almost all those players return for 2022. Can the Vikings use that narrow loss to push them to the sectional title? We’ll see.

4. (2A) Boone Grove (20-6)
2019 (22-7), 2018 (17-5), 23-4 (2017), 25-3 (2016), 24-4 (2015), 21-5 (2014)

PORTER TOWNSHIP: Okay, why Boone? Well, the 2021 Wolves won 20 games with just one senior on the squad.

2022 seniors-to-be catcher Kailyn Coates (21 of 61, 344, 32 RBIs) and Erica Hoffman (32 of 88, .443, 32 RBIs, 23 stolen bases) have been starting since they were freshmen in 2019. And the next generation has arrived. 2021 freshmen Natalie Meinert (10-3, 0.94 ERA, 122 strikeouts, 11 walks in 82 innings) and Emile Veschak (43 of 88, .489, 5 homers, 5 triples, 27 RBIs, 25 stolen bases) led a ‘Wolf Pack’ of six freshman who all appeared in 18 games for Boone in 2021.

I’m assuming Boone stays in Class 2A and that they will be a big sectional favorite in Class 2A Sectional 34. The problem is the local 2A regional and state champ Pioneer. Pioneer junior Hailey Cripe hit 23 home runs last year and was 15-0 as a pitcher. Maybe she’ll transfer to Boone next semester, right? Wrong.

No matter their post-season prospects, Boone will be good for the next couple of years. But with ‘old Wolves’ Coates and Hoffman still in the ‘Pack’, 2022 seems like a very big year for Boone Grove.

5. (4A) Crown Point (28-4)
29-5 (2019), 25-6 (2018), 30-2 (2017), 28-2 (2016), 29-3 (2015), 29-1 (2014), 25-5 (2013), 25-8 (2012)

CROWN POINT:  Here’s a team that changes greatly in 2022, but change doesn’t necessarily mean decline. Of 18 CP varsity players, nine were seniors in 2021. Of the four 2021 pitchers only Brinkley Kita (4-0, 1.46 ERA) returns, but she could be big time in 2022. In limited duty in 2021, Brinkley struck out 50 in just 24 innings, allowing just six base hits. Of 72 batters who were retired, 50 struck out. Kita also walked 16 and threw 10 wild pitches. I don’t remember a pitcher with a decent number of innings who gave up more walks and wild pitches than she did base hits. In the pre-pandemic freshman year of 2019, Kita struck out 97 in 65 innings (with 26 walks) and was 6-2 with an 0.97 ERA.

Unless there’s a new soldier joining the ‘Red Army’, Kita is the key to the 2022 Lady Bulldogs. If Brinkley is a little less of a wild child, she could pitch in big games and dominate. I‘ve seen her do it before. Kita (26 of 65, .400) also brings a big bat after seven home runs and 20 RBIs in 31 games in 2021 so she’ll bat high in the order in 2022. The Lady Bulldogs will return leadoff batter Audrey Wroble (31 of 73, .425) and infielder Emily Phillips (14 of 51, .275, 4 homers, 21 runs scored). Emily walked 11 times and struck out just eight times in 29 games and she might be CP’s new shortstop.

There are more than a handful of part time Crown Point players who could be full time in 2022. Sydney Meyer (8 of 31, .308), Gina Serratos (8 of 15, .533, 5 stolen bases), Audrey Williams (9 of 37, .243) and Bo Turpin (9 of 23, .391) could be regulars. But all of those numbers are somewhat meaningless because those girls simply did not bat much in 2021. Defensively, the Lady Bulldogs should be strong, but CP has a lot of offense to replace and the Bulldogs all know that the goal is not just to do well but to beat Lake Central.

Still, with a few former bench warmers grabbing an opportunity to start, Crown Point should be steady and if Brinkley Kita is in control, the Bulldogs should win 20 games again. But CP will again have a battle with Valparaiso in the sectional before they think about Lake Central at regional time.

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Revised: July 25, 2021.