JUCO softball: Warriors close out regular season

May 1—OTTUMWA — It was quite a sendoff for the sophomore members of the Indian Hills softball team.

The Warriors came through in key moments through an Iowa Community College Athletic Conference doubleheader sweep against Southwestern, very nearly ending the postseason hopes of the visiting Spartans on Monday afternoon in the final doubleheader of the regular season. Indian Hills scored nine of their 17 runs in the opening innings of each game on Sophomore Day at Romalynn 'R.L.' Hellyer Field, building early leads in 6-3 and 11-3 wins that potentially closes out a winning 12-4 record on their home diamond this season.

Potentially is the key word. Indian Hills can earn at least two more home games this season by winning the Region XI postseason championship by winning best-of-three series at Southeastern and, potentially, at Iowa Western over the next week earning a chance to host the best-of-three NJCAA Midwest District championship series against the Region XVI champion.

"We're going to make a run for it. We can compete," Indian Hills sophomore first baseman Hannah Simpson said. "I'm excited. We're going to bring back some hardware for sure."

For Indian Hills (33-21, 11-5 ICCAC), there was nothing by pride and momentum to play for on Monday against Southwestern having already been locked in as the No. 3 seed in the regional tournament. The Spartans, meanwhile, needed at least one win to lock in the fourth and final regional postseason berth.

The Warrior sophomores set the tone early in what could be their final two games at Hellyer Field. Julia Kwakernaak drove in Eva Fulk with a one-out RBI single to right to put the first run on the board in the very first inning before scoring along with another sophomore, Claire Tipton, on a two-run double into the left-center field gap by Simpson giving IHCC a 3-0 lead.

"We've got to continue to play with a chip on our shoulders," Simpson said. "We're still Indian Hills. Everyone wants to beat us. We have a great program and we're known to compete and win. We have this tradition. I tell the girls all the time that everyone wants to take us down. When one of us strikes out on the road, that entire stadium goes crazy.

"At this point, what do we have to lose? We need to stay sharp, play with confidence and play like we're going in to end someone's season."

Kwakernaak, playing in her final two regular-season home games for IHCC, drove in two more runs in the second inning as Ella Daugherity and Fulk each came in on a run-scoring single to left giving the Warriors a 5-0 lead in the opening game. Southwestern fought back in the fourth, putting a pair of runs on the board on RBI hits by Erika Kruse and Kirsten Streeter bringing the potential tying run to the plate before Warrior sophomore pitcher Sara Reid forced her final batter faced of the regular season, Julia Jones, to pop out to Simpson ending the Spartan threat.

"Our sophomores have done an incredible job as leaders throughout this season," Tarah Rayos said after wrapping up her first regular season as IHCC head softball coach. "We kept fighting. We need to keep fighting to do the things that we need to do."

Tipton added a two-out RBI single in the fourth, scoring Raley from third, to pad IHCC's opening-game lead. The Spartans got that run back in the sixth, but never got the tying run back to the plate as Alivia Ruble came on to close out the opening game retiring nine of 13 batters faced including six groundouts by the Spartans.

"Southwestern have some good hitters. They're going to put the ball in play," Rayos said. "It was perfect to see some areas we may still need to work on before opening the postseason. Alivia stepped in and gave us some big innings in the pitching circle, allowing us to rest Sara and Ashlynn (Sheets) before the postseason."

Southwestern (14-28, 2-14 ICCAC) took its only lead of the day in the first inning of game two, the final regular-season contest for both teams, as a two-out RBI double by Kruse brought in Brooklyn Hadl to put the Spartans up 1-0. That lead wouldn't make it through the first inning as the Warriors responded quickly, scoring six runs in the bottom of the frame including three consecutive RBI hits by sophomore teammates Simpson, Tipton and Tatum Aragon lifting Indian Hills to a 4-1 lead.

"We know you can't take Southwestern lightly. We needed to face someone that was going to give us some push back," Tipton said after driving in a team-leading four runs on Sophomore Day, going 3-5 with double and two runs scored. "We responded well to the challenges. Our entire line-up is a threat. Everyone 1-9 can put a bat on the ball.

"As sophomores, we saw a lot of good pitching last year. Extending our season was so much fun. We're ready to get back to that point and get back to Alabama (for the NJCAA World Series). We've had a taste of it. We want to go back there and do even better this year."

Despite the losses on Monday, Southwestern earned the tiebreaker edge of Marshalltown to secure the fourth seed and a trip to Iowa Western on Wednesday for the other best-of-three regional semifinal series. Indian Hills, meanwhile, returns to Southeastern after splitting a doubleheader at the Wagner Athletic Complex with the Blackhawks two weeks earlier finishing with an even 2-2 split of the regular-season series between the teams including two last at-bat wins by Southeastern over the Warriors.

"Southeastern has a good team, but we can compete just as much as anyone else," Simpson said. "We've competed and beaten some of the top teams in the nation. We've proven we have what it takes to get back there and compete with the best teams at nationals."

— Scott Jackson can be reached at Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.