Small ball will be the Lady Raiders’ best friend Wednesday. Three Rivers College, in the first round of the NJCAA Softball National Championship Tournament, gets to face the team that leads Division I in home runs (128), extra base hits (274), total bases (1,128) and slugging percentage (.725). The No. 5 Southern Idaho (47-10) is also in the top 10 in another six categories on offense. Six of the Golden Eagles have at least 14 home runs. Tristin Evans leads the team and is fifth in the nation with 24. She also hit seventh in Southern Idaho’s Region 18 Championship game. Comparatively, Allison Pingel leads No. 12 Three Rivers with 19 home runs and Ally Law is second with 10. Three Rivers coach Jeff Null likened Southern Idaho to Crowder, which had 78 fewer home runs than Southern Idaho, but led the nation in doubles, was ninth in triples and second in runs scored. “Pitching looked pretty decent, but it looked average compared to their offense,” Null said. Three Rivers (43-14) may have an edge in the circle with Summer Shockley, a strikeout pitcher facing a team that strikes out a lot. The Region XVI Player of the Year and Van Buren alumna has a 1.92 ERA, averages 8.93 strikeouts per seven innings, and is third in the nation in strikeouts (261). She has also given up 13 home runs over 204 2/3 innings. “She is going to have to pitch our game. We are going to do what got us here. Obviously, whatever we do is pretty tough. We’re going to keep our approach and hopefully make them adjust,” Null said. “Not putting anybody on, limit them to a solo shot if they get one, those are the kinds of things we can handle without changing our approach too much.”
Southern Idaho’s likely starter, Stefani Zimmerman, has a 2.36 ERA and averages 4.45 strikeouts. If there is a silver lining for Shockley against the power-hitting lineup, it’s that hitting the ball deep is about all that Southern Idaho does. While the Golden Eagles are 15th in the country in sacrifice flies, they are 115th in sacrifice bunts. They are also 84th in stolen bases and 107th in strikeouts. Sierrah Anderson leads the Golden Eagles with 27 stolen bases and leadoff hitter Hannah Peterson is second with 10. Only one other player has more than two. Three Rivers, meanwhile, will likely have at least five players in the lineup with nine or more stolen bases, led by Kristyn Carpenter’s 33. Randi Scruggs still leads the team with 46 stolen bases, but is out for the season with a knee injury. “I can’t even tell the difference,” Null said of losing Scruggs, the team’s leadoff hitter and center fielder. “Randi is a little more explosive at the top of the lineup, so we lose some explosiveness there, but all the girls have stepped up and they keep stepping up. So heck, who am I to doubt them.” Null added that Three Rivers will likely have the same lineup it did against Indian Hills in the District J Championship, with the possible exception of Peyton Gunn as the DP for Shockley. “Gunn has been swinging the bat so well lately, it is hard to keep her out of the lineup,” Null said. Gunn is hitting .355 for the season with three home runs over 76 at bats. In the second game against Indian Hills, Gunn hit sixth and was 3 for 3 with an RBI. She also went 1 for 3 with two RBIs and a walk in the Region XVI Championship. With Scruggs out, Lindsey Elfrink hit leadoff and played center field after spending most of the season as a left fielder and hitting lower in the lineup. In three games in her new role, she is 1 for 7 batting with a walk and two stolen bases. For the season, Elfrink is hitting .267 with six RBIs and 11 stolen bases in 75 at bats. Three Rivers and Southern Idaho play at 5 p.m (6 p.m Missouri time) Wednesday. Three Rivers will face either No. 13 Walters State (Tenn.) or No. 4 Butler (Kan.) in the second round. Three Rivers will play at 2:30 p.m. Thursday if it wins and at 5 p.m. Thursday if it loses in the double elimination tournament.
Scott Borkgren - Daily American Republic