Alexi Sanchez and Maddison Welker spent part of their Sunday watching the St. Louis Cardinals struggle mightily to solve Atlanta Braves pitching.
Sanchez, a sophomore, and Welker, a senior, had a much-deserved day off from playing for the Northwest softball team to watch the National League Divisional playoff series. I wanted to talk to them and head coach Dan Davison about the incredible season the Lions are having.
After beating Kirkwood 10-0 in a Suburban Conference Red pool game on Oct. 3, Northwest won its fifth straight and 15th of its last 16 games to improve to 20-3. It’s the first time the Lions have won 20 games since 1989, when they set a school record with 22. Northwest won the Class 3A-4A state championship 1-0 over Lafayette in 1986 under head coach Victor Cavellero.
Davison was 10 years old and attending elementary school at Annunciation Catholic Church in Webster Groves the last time the Lions won 20 games. Northwest has three more regular season games and the Class 4 District 1 tournament to break the record.
“It’s pretty neat to know our program was great in the 80s,” Davison said. “We’ve talked about what a great opportunity to have our team recognized with that team.”
This year’s Northwest Nine will always be remembered for the way they hit the ball. The win over the Pioneers, which Davison said was the Lions’ best defensive effort of the season, secured the Red pool title and the Lions are averaging 11.3 runs per game. They’ve scored 10 or more runs 16 times and plated a season-high 21 runs against Pacific on Sept. 5.
“That was something we talked about before the season started. We felt like we had an offense that could produce like it has,” Davison said.
Sanchez is one of the top hitters in the St. Louis area. She leads Northwest with a .627 batting average and 40 RBIs. She has 10 extra base hits, but no home runs. It’s just a matter of time before Sanchez finds her range for the long ball though.
“It would be fun to hit a home run, but a single can do just as much if you hit enough of them,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez hones her skill on the diamond in the summer playing club ball for the St. Louis Heat 2003 team. The Heat travels every weekend and their players are up against competition they don’t see during the fall prep season. She noticed she was hitting better by summer’s end.
“This year I’ve become more of a disciplined hitter and that helps with each at-bat,” Sanchez said. “I can take a ball inside or outside and I can take it to any part of the field. I learn from each at-bat. We’ve faced some good pitching. Some have movement on their pitches. You have to think, ‘do I let this go by or what is she going to throw next.’”
Davison has been the Lions’ head coach for 13 years. After Northwest beat Seckman 9-1 in the district final, it lost 8-3 to Oakville in the sectional round last year. He said his players are focused on last year’s success and talked about it in the offseason in an effort to go farther in the playoffs. Davison pointed to a win over Eureka the day after a tough loss to Oakville last month as a rallying point for the season.
“I feel we can have a different player be a hero any day,” Davison said. “We have kids on our bench that can help us. It’s the most depth I’ve had since I’ve been here.”
Most of the Northwest batters have eye-popping numbers. Junior twin sisters Jenna and Sarah Roth are double trouble for opposing hitters and play second base and shortstop respectively. Sarah is hitting .583 with 20 doubles. Jenna has a .476 average, 10 doubles and 26 RBIs. Senior Jaime Lee, who plays catcher and in the outfield, is blistering the ball to the tune of a .541 average with 13 extra base hits and 36 runs driven in. Lee and freshman first baseman Ella Stichling lead the Lions with four home runs. Senior Madi Stichling (third base, pitcher) is batting .453 with 31 RBIs.
“This year we have a relationship we built since last season,” Sanchez said. “We have a great offense. We have great pitching this year and our defense has been great.”
“She never cheats herself out of an at-bat,” Davison said about Sanchez. “She hits the ball to all fields. She can definitely hit one over the fence but we don’t care as much as her driving the ball.”
Welker gets to see her teammates hit the ball every day in practice. She leads Northwest in innings pitched (79) and has a 12-2 record and 4.43 ERA. Welker usually pitches ahead in the count and uses a curveball and changeup as her out pitches.
“Our offense has made our pitching this year,” she said. “We have kids up and down the lineup who can hit. It’s cool to see and it makes other teams nervous.”
Despite the current win streak and chance to set the school record for wins, a 10-7 loss to the Jaguars on Sept. 23 sticks in the Northwest players’ minds. Seckman is always a threat to post 10 or more runs and has done it eight times this year. The Jaguars led the Lions 9-0 in the first inning of their last meeting. Northwest responded with six runs in the second to make it a game.
“We need to go in with a better mindset so we have a better first inning,” Sanchez said about the possibility of a district rematch. “They found some holes and we made some errors.”
“It’s always a huge game,” Welker said. “My pitching and our defense was rough in the first inning. Coming back like we did shows what kind of team we are. The games are always close. Both teams have excellent lineups.”
Not giving up after trailing 9-0 showed a lot of heart and resilience, Davison said.
“If we get an opportunity to play them again, it will be the hardest game of the year,” he said. “The team that wins that game will be the one that plays the best defense.”