Three Rivers had to battle a little bit of adversity Thursday against Jefferson College.
Wind speeds were around 20 mph for most of the day, making it much harder than normal to judge fly balls and pop-ups. It's a condition both teams had to feel with, but the Lady Raiders, ranked 20th in the most recent NJCAA poll, were also shifting players around to give others a rest day.
On top of that, Allison Pingel got hit in the face by a foul ball while she was in the on-deck circle during the first inning of game one of a doubleheader. The program's all-time leading home run hitter finished the first game, going 2 for 3 with an RBI, but was replaced at first base in the fourth inning of game two since she wasn't 100 percent. Despite those few extra challenges, Three Rivers still came away with a 5-4 win in game one and followed up with a commanding 9-1 win in six innings.
The first finish of the day came with some drama. Trailing 5-3 in the bottom of the seventh, Jefferson (23-8, 8-4 Region XVI) roped a leadoff double to immediately get into scoring position.
Three Rivers pitcher Abbey Gann got the next two batters down on a pop-up and a fly ball. It looked like Three Rivers (30-3, 15-1 Region XVI) would easily end the game on the next at-bat, but the wind caught a pop-up in foul territory and catcher Gracie King couldn't track it as the ball bounced off of her outstretched glove.
After a walk put two on with two out, batter Skylure Barlow popped up between first and second base. Both Pingel and Kristyn Carpenter tracked the ball, and as it got away from both of them they collided with each other and the ball dropped to the ground for an error, allowing a run to score.
King dropped an 0-1 pitch on the next batter and Kaitlynn Williams took off for home from third base, but King quickly grabbed the ball and made a diving tag to stop the tying run from scoring and win the game.
"The first game was just a tough game. The wind was blowing hard. Abbey (Gann) is kind of a fly ball pitcher, so it wasn't really a good mix," Three Rivers coach Jeff Null said. "They had a couple balls that were hit and the wind did crazy stuff to it."
With the go-ahead run on base, Gann had to remind herself to pitch like she'd done all game and relax.
"I just really have to remember to trust myself," Gann said. "I know what I've got going into every game, what's working and what's not working and just rolling with that. Today, I felt like personally I battled a lot better than I've been known to, and I felt like that helped me remain strong through it."
Null noticed a little tightness around the team despite the win, so he told them to relax and remember they just won a tough game.
"That was a big win. I tried to get the kids relaxed a little bit because they were all a little puckered up in that last inning of that first game," Null said. "I said, 'Hey, we just won, you know, lighten up. We get to play another one.'"
The message must have gotten through to the players because they controlled every facet of the second game.
Three Rivers scored three runs in the first inning and easily handled its business to finish the day. This time, it was Jefferson that let the affect its play. At least three times, balls were thrown way too high to have a chance at being fielded. First, King reached on an error by the shortstop. A base hit from Lana Reed scored Carpenter and moved King to third. In the middle of a 10-pitch at-bat from Zoe Bisby, King scored on a wild pitch. Bisby hit an RBI single on the next pitch, scoring Reed.
"They made that adjustment, and second game came out swinging the bats," Null said. "Lana smoked the ball all day. Pingel did, too, of course she got a little dinged up. That was another thing, we had a little adversity."
Three Rivers added a run in the second to cushion its lead, and King gave the team even more insurance with a two-run homer to left field straight into the wind. King went 2 for 3 with three RBIs in game two, and her homer was her eighth of the year, tying Carpenter for the team-high.
The defense did its job, too. The Lady Raiders played error-free softball for the entire game, and Saje Kurpiela pitched five scoreless innings. The only run she allowed was a solo home run in the sixth. With the win, she improved her record to 13-2.
Gann got the win in game one. She tossed nine strikeouts and allowed three earned runs in a complete game, moving to 13-1 on the season.
Three Rivers will visit No. 12 Crowder for a big region matchup between two top-20 teams. Three Rivers split its last series with Crowder on March 17, handing the Lady Roughriders their only loss of the season thus far. First pitch of the doubleheader is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Monday.
Nate Fields - Daily American Republic