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Few expected Tri-West to reach third state final: 'It sucks that we lost, but we made it.'

WEST LAFAYETTE — As soon as Tri-West received its semistate championship trophy last Monday, senior Emma Frye turned to coach Mike Miller and told him: "I didn't believe, but I think we got it."

The Bruins entered rarified air earlier this week, becoming the fifth three-time defending semistate champion in IHSAA history and they did so despite graduating six seniors off last year's Class 3A runner-up team, including four of their top hitters.

Despite all that, the players lost to graduation, the new faces coming in and the minefield of talented teams that awaited this group once it cleared a daunting regular-season slate, Tri-West still finished the 2024 season on the same stage: Purdue's Bittinger Stadium in the 3A state championship game.

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"I doubted our team a little. How could you not?" Frye said, a smile forming across her face. "You have an entirely new starting lineup of girls who've never played together, most of whom are underclassmen. You still have the same goal, (but) it's hard to hit that goal. So when we won semistate — it was just amazing."

Unfortunately for the Bruins, the final result was painfully familiar, as well: A heartbreaking loss wherein the bats struggle to find traction against an underclassman ace.

Two years ago it was South Bend St. Joseph's Berkley Zache, last year it was New Prairie's Ava Geyer, Saturday it was Western freshman Lucy George, who spun a two-hit shutout with one walk and 16 strikeouts. She was perfect through three innings and allowed only one runner to reach second base.

Tri-West never really threatened until the top of the seventh when Danica James lined a two-out single up the middle to bring up Ava Hensley. The junior was twice the hero earlier in the week and she made solid contact on George's 1-1 offering, but center fielder Kamryn Garber made a diving grab to ice the 1-0 win and lift Western to its first state championship in program history.

The difference was a second-inning home run by Western senior Chloe Linn.

"I thought it was a great pitch,"  senior Oklahoma commit Audrey Lowry said. "It was right inside, right at her hands and she turned on it. She made a great hit, so kudos to her."

Tri-West Hendricks Bruins Emma Frye (8) hugs Tri-West Hendricks Bruins head coach Mike Miller after the IHSAA Class 3A softball state championship against the Western Panthers, Saturday, June 8, 2024, at Purdue University’s Bittinger Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind. Western won 1-0.
Tri-West Hendricks Bruins Emma Frye (8) hugs Tri-West Hendricks Bruins head coach Mike Miller after the IHSAA Class 3A softball state championship against the Western Panthers, Saturday, June 8, 2024, at Purdue University’s Bittinger Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind. Western won 1-0.

In case you were wondering, yes, Tri-West is the first team in state history to finish runner-up in three consecutive seasons. But considering the improbability of this year's run, that fact seems like more of a footnote, even in the immediate aftermath of Saturday's loss.

"We lost a lot of power last year and these seniors took control of the team and they willed everyone to do it," Miller said of Frye, Lowry, James, Taylor Bennett, Savanna Trivett, Michelle Wildman and Gianna Shaver. "They kept telling everybody this is where they wanted to be and everyone bought into it. It was a very rewarding year watching these kids grow as adults."

Miller saw the signs back in early April at the Castle Invite, where the Bruins went 3-1 with wins over 4A's Floyd Central, Daviess County (No. 4 in Kentucky) and eventual 4A regional champion Castle. The team returned with a spark, he said, recounting how the younger players showed if given the chance, they'd step up.

Tri-West lost only four regular-season games after that, then set about their latest state tournament parade, taking out Danville, Crawfordsville and Western Boone in sectional, holding off Edgewood in regional, then Hamilton Heights and Silver Creek in semistate.

"Instead of a softball team, it felt like a family," said Bennett, the 3A Mental Attitude Award recipient. "That made it a lot easier to fight for each other and to do what we did over the past few years."

Leading the way were the seniors, whom Miller said were like his own children.

"They believe so much, not only in the softball team but the whole culture we try to teach," he continued. "They believe in everything from A-Z. They're great kids and they've had the excitement of the ride for three years and personally, I'm going to miss them."

Tri-West Hendricks Bruins Taylor Bennett (2) celebrates with Tri-West Hendricks Bruins Michelle Wildman (14) after getting an out during the IHSAA Class 3A softball state championship against the Western Panthers, Saturday, June 8, 2024, at Purdue University’s Bittinger Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind. Western won 1-0.
Tri-West Hendricks Bruins Taylor Bennett (2) celebrates with Tri-West Hendricks Bruins Michelle Wildman (14) after getting an out during the IHSAA Class 3A softball state championship against the Western Panthers, Saturday, June 8, 2024, at Purdue University’s Bittinger Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind. Western won 1-0.

As her teammates finished clearing out their dugout and preparing to head back to Lizton, Frye offered an emotional reflection on her time as a Bruin. "It's been amazing, so amazing," she said, tears flowing down her cheeks as Miller put his arm around the senior infielder.

"It's a great program filled with great people," she continued. "I made some of my best friends. I'm forever grateful for this experience and being able to play with these girls and these coaches. I don't regret anything. We came here three times. Not many others can say that. It's so hard to do and we did it. It sucks that we lost, but we made it."

Follow Brian Haenchen on Twitter at @Brian_Haenchen.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Tri-West loses IHSAA softball 3A state final for third straight year