Rangers, E.B. Wauford celebrate back-to-back titles

J. Patrick Eaken

Northwood junior shortstop and catcher Elizabeth Wauford earned Toledo Area Athletic Conference Player of the Year honors for the second straight year, leading her team to its second straight league title.

The Rangers finished 12-14 overall but were a perfect 8-0 in the TAAC. Their biggest concern in the league was Emmanuel Christian.

“We were worried about everybody, but Emmanuel was pretty good,” Northwood coach Jennifer Noonan said. “We were watching them early in the season and they were undefeated for a long time, so we didn’t know what they were going to look like.

“One of the keys to this team’s success was this is the most talented group I’ve coached at Northwood. Typically, we enter a season going over fundamentals and we were able to move past that and go right into other skills. They took conditioning very seriously and gave 100% every day,” Noonan continued.

Noonan was the junior varsity coach under Dan Fuller when Northwood previously won a league title over a half decade ago. Now, her team has given her two straight and she also earned her 100th career victory as a head coach. She shared TAAC Coach of the Year honors with Emmanuel’s Nick Woodward.

Noonan says she is not only teaching the players, but she is learning, too.

“Each year you get better. As a coach you learn more and more,” Noonan said.

Wauford batted .602 (50-for-83) with 46 runs, 20 doubles, two triples, seven home runs, 54 RBIs and three stolen bases. She caught every league game for the Rangers and earned first team all-district before playing in a postseason all-star game that got rained out in the first inning. 

Wauford shares the single season home run school record with former Northwood standout Lexi Rudnicki, broke her own doubles record from last year (19), and now owns the career doubles record (39).

Last year “E.B.” Wauford, as she is known to her teammates, had 19 doubles, six triples, four home runs, 38 runs and 47 RBIs in batting an astronomical .612 (52-for-85).

This year, Wauford was part of a team that saw talent carried deep into the lineup. Twelve players batted .300 or batter, if you include a few secondary underclassmen that saw limited varsity time. Noonan had 20 players in the program and was able to schedule some junior varsity games, too.

Northwood’s varsity standouts included sophomore Natalie Thompson at first base, senior Meiah Smith in center field, junior Mara O’Connor in left field, and junior Mikayla Hanely and freshman Lea Wauford in the circle.’

Freshman Shaelyn Nestor played shortstop and third base and another freshman Carissa Davis, who was new to the district, had two home runs. 

Lexi Haas, Autumn Schroeder, Brooke Sakac, Kilee Leonard, Cassidy Genson, and Ava Schoeber all played infield and outfield and “were fantastic,” Noonan said.

Plus, it was a mix of girls who enjoyed playing as a unit.

“I think it was the team dynamics. They had so much fun this year. Even when we weren’t doing well, they were having fun, and we had a lot of young girls who complemented the upperclassmen,” Noonan said.

Thompson batted .320 (16-for-50) with 23 runs, four doubles, one triple and 12 RBIs, and learned to play first base. She had already shown her talent in another sport, so Noonan thought it was a good fit.

“Natalie plays first base for us, and she was not a first baseman, but she is a really good goalie in soccer, so we put here there, and she learned the spot quickly. She’s very good,” Noonan said.

Nestor batted .415 (27-for-65) with 28 runs, five doubles and 14 RBIs. O’Connor hit .387 (24-for-62) with 20 runs, four doubles, 11 RBIs and a stolen base. Smith hit .343 (24-for-70) with 35 runs, four doubles, 13 RBIs and two SB, and Hanely hit .528 (38-for-72) with 28 runs, eight doubles, one triple, three home runs, 39 RBIs and three SB.

E.B.’s younger sister, Lea Wauford, earned honorable mention all-district honors after batting .523 (42-for-79) with 29 runs, 10 doubles, three triples, 41 RBIs and a stolen base.

The Rangers’ two pitchers, Hanely and Lea Wauford, split duties against league opponents with one pitching on Tuesday and the other on Thursday. Lea Wauford was in the circle for 100.3 innings, striking out 96, walking 48 and allowing 85 earned runs.

Hanely pitched 47.3 innings, striking out 55, walking 20 and allowing 25 earned runs for a 4.29 ERA. Hanely earned every TAAC victory in the circle a year ago, but this year had the comfort of knowing Lea Wauford had her back.

“We had a freshman (Lea Wauford) who throws hard and she moves the ball around. She (Hanely) is a junior now and she missed the COVID year, but she won the TAAC last year by herself. She came in, she was experienced, and we were able to give them breaks because if they weren’t pitching, they were playing in the infield. It’s not as much pressure on the pitcher if you know you got someone else who can throw if you are not having your best day,” Noonan said.

The Rangers lost in the opening round of the Division III tournament to Liberty Center, 12-7.

“When we played with them in a doubleheader, we split with them, so we came into that game pretty confident and then we didn’t play our best game at all,” Noonan said. “Then they turned around and beat Start after that and Start has a good program.”

Noonan says multiple players are already playing travel softball this summer, and she has high hopes for a third straight league title in 2023, knowing the Rangers will have a target on their back.

“We only graduated two seniors, we are going to have our two pitchers back, our catcher back and our freshmen will be sophomores so that will be good because they have a little experience in now,” Noonan said.



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