JOHNSTOWN – Mikaela Pankuch took full advantage Thursday of one final chance to hit in familiar surroundings.
Pankuch, one of five Northridge seniors, doubled and homered to lead the eighth-seeded Vikings to a 5-2 victory against Highland in a Division III second-round game. Pankuch and Megan Hatfield are completing their fourth season of varsity play, and another postseason run is the only thing left on their checklist.
“Walking off the field, Mikaela just said that this is our last time playing here, and it really hit me,” Hatfield said. “I don’t know how I feel about it yet. I just want to keep playing. I want a lot more games this season.”
The Vikings had great success in the Mid-Buckeye Conference before moving to the Licking County League. They have been in the middle of the pack in the LCL, but they hope the difficult competition has made it a proper training ground.
Northridge plays North Union at 5 p.m. Tuesday at a site to be announced. The Wildcats are the top seed.
“(The seniors) have been a huge part of this and have shown a lot of leadership with their experience,” said Northridge coach Mike Pankuch, whose team also graduates Hunter Adkins, Macy Adams and Savannah Eggart. “Their insight has been great, and they are just remarkable to have. They are like another assistant coach for me and these girls.”
Northridge gave Tori Hart three early runs against Highland, and the junior right-hander did the rest. Hart struck out eight, and the Scots’ lone hit through the first six innings was a bunt.
Hatfield, who is among the area leaders in several offensive categories, singled Hart to third in the first inning before both runners scored on a throwing error. Mikaela Pankuch then lined a double to left-center to score Kayla Mickey.
“Every game someone different is on, and Mikaela really hit strong today,” Hatfield said.
In Mikaela Pankuch’s next at-bat, she hit a deep drive to center. Highland’s Parker Steck had the ball tip off the edge of her glove and fall over the fence.
“I hit it off the barrel, and it felt good coming off,” Mikaela Pankuch said. “I honestly thought she was going to catch it the way she was running. Then it went over, and I did a little fist pump.”
Highland scored its first run in the fourth inning, but Lexi Hart hit an RBI single in the bottom of the inning to extend the lead to 5-1.
The Scots had three hits and a run in the seventh, but Adkins fielded a hard-hit ground ball at second and threw to Pankuch to complete their career on their home field.
“It’s kind of surreal,” Mikaela Pankuch said. “It’s weird because we have played here for the past four years, and now it’s over with.”