by BRYAN EVERSON
Lutheran Northwest looked, by all accounts, very good in last Friday’s 13-1 home win over Franklin Road Christian.
With normal ace starting pitcher Madison Macy taking a day off from her regular duties, senior Ali Magiera came out from behind the plate and put in an 11-strikeout shift. She was very good at the plate, too, where she posted four hits, and got plenty of help from teammates, like first baseman Hannah Stanko, who came a home run short of the cycle.
Very good, though, is probably still a measure short of what the Crusaders (12-3, 6-1 Michigan Independent Athletic Conference Blue Division) are aiming for this year, considering it’s what they’ve been the past handful of years under head coach Jeff Ludwig, who’s been at Northwest for 14 years. After five consecutive seasons where Northwest has claimed a district championship, he and his team are ready to take the next step, which could come in the way of a league title, something that’s eluded the program in the time they’ve won those district crowns.
“We haven’t had one since 2011, and we’ve won districts five years in a row — that’s nice, that second season, but we’re in the running [for the conference championship],” Ludwig said. “We’re a game back with three games left and playing Liggett in a couple weeks. Hopefully, if we stay undefeated against everyone else, we’ll get our shot to at least tie for a league title that’s avoided us, and we’re excited for that opportunity.”
The success that’s come about in recent years at Northwest has come from all sides of the bench, and Ludwig’s players have plenty of praise for him.
“I think his determination and his passion for the sport is what drives them,” Magiera said. “Him showing how much he wants our players to excel gives us the extra push. He’s a great coach.” Not unexpectedly, Ludwig gives the credit to the will of his players for Northwest’s long-term success.
“It’s the kids being receptive to what it takes to excel on the field,” he said. “It’s putting the time in practice. We do a lot of sessions from November to tryouts and make it a year-round thing, and when the kids are receptive to that, we stay successful.”
Ludwig said the strength of his team all year is at the top of the order, which is no surprise with Magiera, the team’s career leader in home runs who’s headed to play at Central Michigan, and Macy, a junior who’s almost as good at making contact as she is at striking out batters. But the ability to start getting contributions across the board within the last week or so has made the Crusaders even more of a force to be reckoned with.
“Our last two games, we’ve been putting the ball in play one through nine, which is really encouraging, because for the better part of the season, we’ve been getting them from one through four, and then hoping somebody five through nine puts the ball in play, and we’ve been getting that the last week,” Ludwig said.
Macy and Magiera both emphasized the importance of winning a conference title, and a team that gets along well off the field never hurts. Ludwig says the leadership of that pair is a plus, too. “Since day one, when they came to the school as freshman, they’ve been starters,” Ludwig said. “They both were captains as sophomores. They’re leaders by words and by example. The kids migrate to them, feed off them and excited to say they play with girls like that.”
In addition to winning that conference title, making another step past districts is also on Ludwig’s bucket list.
“If we can go into districts on a roll, anything’s possible,” Ludwig said.