The Three Rivers College softball team didn't settle for its first Region XVI championship. The Raiders took another huge step in the program's history Saturday, sweeping Indian Hills to win the NJCAA District J series at Rains Field. The Raiders beat Indian Hills 3-2 in the opener of the best-of-three series and then rallied to win the second game 7-5 and advance to the NJCAA Division I Softball Championships in St. George, Utah. "I'm a realist. I knew it was going to be tough being our fi rst year of success," Three Rivers coach Jeff Null said. "You get to this point, and you're kind of happy to get to this point. I didn't think we were going to come out and sweep them. They're a hell of a team. They're looking at making their 20th trip to the World Series. Trying to battle up against all that, I told the girls to try and lay low all week. Treat it like a regular game. We've got nothing to lose. They just kept battling." Summer Shockley, who was the winning pitcher in both games, struggled putting her feelings into words following the victory. "I won a state championship for the first time in high school, and this doesn't even compare," Shockley said. "It's just amazing." The freshman right-hander helped Van Buren win the Class 1 state title during her senior season in 2016. Much of the Raiders' success this season was because of a talented freshman class. Nine of the 14 players who saw game action Saturday were freshmen. "I loved coming in here, knowing it was newer recruits and I was just wanting to start small and we came out big," freshman shortstop Kristyn Carpenter said. "We're not done yet. The Raiders (43-14) will compete in their first World Series from May 16-19. Indian Hills finished the season 46-12 after winning the Region XI championship. Three Rivers fell behind 4-1 in Game 2 before scoring six of the game's final seven runs. "We just knew we had to hit. We had to score," Carpenter said. "We wanted it bad, and it showed, and we worked so hard. We did not let down."
Freshman Sophie Wunderlich hit a sacrifice fly to center field, and sophomore Kabrien Rogers doubled home a run in the fourth to cut Indian Hills' lead to 4-3. Taylor DuBois and Cheyanne Bergert executed a double steal in the bottom of the fourth to push Indian Hills' lead to 5-3. The Warriors were the home team in the second game. The Raiders tied the score with two runs in the fifth. Carpenter, freshman Gracie King and freshman Allison Pingel each singled to load the bases. Carpenter scored on a wild pitch, and sophomore Peyton Gunn's fielder's choice grounder to second base drove in King to tie the score at 5. Ninth-place batter Kirstien Loman, another freshman, opened the sixth inning with a bunt single. Freshman Lindsey Elfrink bunted Loman to second, and Carpenter drove home the go-ahead run with a double to right field. Carpenter, who went 3 for 7 in the doubleheader, drove home the go-ahead run in the first game, too, hitting a solo homer in the sixth inning. "That kid's been a gamer all year," Null said. "She's been our two-hole (hitter) the whole year. She's gotten so much better from high school to here." Shockley wasn't surprised with Carpenter's big hits. "She's a very clutch player," Shockley said. "Whenever we need her, she always shows up. She has the determination more than anybody on our team." The Raiders added an insurance run in the seventh. Gunn doubled with one out and scored on Wunderlich's single to right-center field. Shockley pitched three shutout innings to earn the win the nightcap. She allowed one hit and struck out four. In the opener, she allowed two runs (one earned) on two hits with four walks and 6 strikeouts in seven innings. Indian Hills scored one run in the third and one in the fourth to tie the score at 2 while she struggled with her control. She issued all four of her walks in those two innings. "That's kind of been her M.O. this year. If you're going to get her, you better get to her early. If not, it's over," Null said. "Man, she was lights out at the end. She was throwing hard. She was hitting her spots. The ball was moving a ton. She's been our workhorse all year." Sophomore Ally Law smacked a two-run homer in the second inning to give the Raiders a 2-0 lead. Vanessa Bakley drew a leadoff walk to start Indian Hills' third inning. With two outs, leadoff batter Taylor Jones lifted a fly ball that fell behind second base, cutting the Raiders' lead to 2-1. The Warriors put together a two-out rally to tie the score in the fourth. Abby Straight reached on an error by the shortstop, and Shockley walked the next three batters with Taylor Takushi's base on balls tying the score. "I don't know if I wasn't warmed all the way or what was going on, just a mental block," Shockley said. "Glad that my defense had my back and we came out on top. Whatever works." Shockley finished the game strong, retiring 10 of the final 11 batters she faced. Carpenter opened the sixth with a homer to left-center field for what proved to be the game winner. "I went up there, and I knew I needed to hit it somewhere — somewhere hard — and that's what I did," Carpenter said. "It was amazing." In the second game, the Raiders took a 1-0 lead in the second inning. Law drew a leadoff walk, dashed to second base on a wild pitch, moved to third on Gunn's sacrifice bunt and scored on a Wunderlich's grounder back to the pitcher. Jaylie Reints drew a leadoff walk in the bottom of the second, moved to second on a groundout and advanced to third on a single to right field. Reints scored on a wild pitch to tie the score. Erin Kuba's single gave Indian Hills a 2-1 lead in the third, and Lexi Smith followed with a two-run homer for a 4-1 lead. The Warriors scored all of their runs against freshman Macy Rogers, who allowed five runs on eight hits with six strikeouts and one walk in four innings. "Macy gave us a good four innings there," Null said. "Then we brought in Summer to finish, and she looked better than she did the first game."
Kyle Smith - Daily American Republic