HAMMOND | Nickole Finch didn't expect to pitch a two-hitter against Bishop Noll on Tuesday in the Class 2A Bishop Noll Sectional.
Her Wheeler team had split the regular season series with the Warriors, and had always started by trailing them. In fact, Wheeler coach Marc Bruner said he thought Noll had scored first in their last four match-ups.
All that changed Tuesday as the Bearcats put two runs on the board in the first and added another in the sixth to fuel Finch's two-hit complete game shutout that gave her Wheeler team a 3-0 victory against Bishop Noll to propel it to a match-up with Lake Station tonight in the next round of the sectional.
"She battled through not having great stuff early," Bruner said of Finch. "I thought her changeup was good to get some real bad swings at and to get some weak ground balls.
"Now she's starting to learn to trust the defense a little bit, too, pitch to bad contact instead of thinking she always has to get a strikeout. She's very happy now with throwing a pitch they can't do much with early in the count and getting a weak out."
Finch recorded eight strikeouts, but none of them were as big as the one to end the fourth inning.
After recording the first two outs of the inning, Finch gave up her second hit of the day, then walked the next two batters to load the bases.
"It was probably the win or loss of the game I think," Finch said. "I wasn't pitching my best. I was struggling and I think my team picked me up more than anything. Coaches were challenging me to get that strikeout, and I knew that for my team I had to get it. And I just did it."
Finch didn't allow another base runner for the rest of the game.
Wheeler got its lead thanks to the quick feet of Whitney Maas, the team's lead-off hitter, who had an infield single to start the game.
When Mari Medina tried to bunt Maas over, pitcher Vanessa Hartzell sent the throw over the second baseman's head into center field. That allowed Maas to score and Medina to make it to third before the ball got back in the infield.
"She's the fastest or second-fastest kid I've ever coached," Bruner said of Maas. "What makes her faster, though, is she's out of the left handed box. She was flying. She had a great game.
"If we get Whitney on, we feel like we can score."