Lady Raiders softball finished its home schedule with a bang.
The Lady Raiders walloped St. Charles (1-33, 0-24 Region XVI) with a pair of 15-1 wins. If not for winds blowing near 25 mph at times, the score may have been even more lopsided. On several occasions, the wind got hold of a well-hit ball and kept it from sailing over the fence.
Despite that, Three Rivers (36-7, 19-5 Region XVI) still mustered five home runs on the day. It was a big bounce back day for the Lady Raiders after splitting its previous series at Jefferson College.
"We've been playing a tough part of our schedule. A few kids were struggling and everything, so we needed to have a day like that to have the confidence going," Three Rivers coach Jeff Null said. "We talked a lot the last few days about the mental approach, and this it it. We're winding down here and finishing strong."
Two of the round-trippers were fittingly hit by Allison Pingel, the program's career leader in home runs. She now has six home runs on the season and 27 for her career. Sophomores Gracie King and Kristyn Carpenter also hit a home run each.
It's only right that the most successful class in program history had several players end their time at Rains Field with a homer. King, Carpenter and Reed all extended a three-way tie for the team lead in homers with nine on the season.
"It's bittersweet. I'll miss it; I really will," Pingel said. "It's home when you step on the field. Not only the home field advantage, but it's yours. It's where you get to grind every day, and it's just crazy to think that I'll never play on it again."
Pingel's first homer scored the first run of the day. It was a solo shot in the second inning, and it led to a lot more.
King started a 10-run third inning with a three-run home run, scoring Carpenter and Jenny Morey. Four pitches later, Pingel nailed another solo shot. Reed made it back-to-back-to-back homers when she lifted a 1-1 pitch over the fence. Carpenter and Morey scored again when Carpenter sent out a 1-0 pitch to put two more runs on the board.
"I think we all had the mindset today to just come in here and fill our confidence back up. With it being our last home game of the year, to go out with two home runs is just kind of the way I'd want to walk away from this ball field, knowing that I left all I had on this field. And I think that's what everyone was thinking," Pingel said.
The Lady Raiders added four more runs to their tally in the fourth inning before ending the game early with a five-inning blowout. Abbey Gann picked up her 16th win of the season, throwing three perfect innings with eight strikeouts. Gracie Gargac relieved Gann when the game was well in-hand. Gargac allowed three hits and an earned run with two strikeouts in two innings.
Game two was much of the same. Three Rivers picked up right where it left off with nine runs in the first inning and five more in the third. Carpenter and King led the way with four and three RBIs, respectively. Morey tallied three hits and scored three runs.
Saje Kurpiela picked up her 16th win with four shutout innings. She struck out four, didn't allow a hit and walked one. Adrienne Stucker pitched the last two innings and struck out four, giving up three hits and an earned run.
"I thought we played pretty focused today. It's easy in games like this to lose a little focus. I thought overall they did a really good job. We hit the ball. The pitchers threw well. The defense was solid, and everybody stayed healthy, so all positives," Null said.
It was a day with heavy pollen and a lot of sneezing. A handful of Lady Raiders players were feeling the full effects of spring. The players made a positive out of it, though.
"It kind of made us laugh. It kept us upbeat almost. It became funny when people's eyes water and sneeze constantly and everybody having to say, 'Bless you,' more than we were cheering on our teammates,'" Pingel said.
With the win, Three Rivers secured the No. 2 seed in the Region XVI Tournament. First, the Lady Raiders will finish their regular season with a two-game series at East Central, starting at 2 p.m. on Monday.
Nate Fields - Daily American Republic