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JUCO softball: Warriors open with split at Iowa Western round-robin

Mar. 1—COUNCIL BLUFFS — It's just like riding a bike.

Only with hard-hit softballs coming right at you from a short distance.

Julia Kwakernaak, however, looked right at home on Friday when it came time to make the biggest defensive play of the day for the Indian Hills softball team. The Warrior sophomore snagged a hard-hit liner off the bat of Bailey Backhaus, then turned around and beat Brooke Backhaus back to the the base for an unassisted double play.

Kwakernaak's web gem not only ended the night for a pair of Hutchinson sisters, but also the hopes of the Blue Dragons ending the opening day of the Iowa Western Round Robin tournament with a 2-0 record. Indian Hills bounced back after dropping a dramatic 11-10 slugfest to NIACC, escaping a late bases-loaded jam against Hutchinson to clinch a 7-2 win and a day one split at the John and Jean Marshall Softball Complex.

"I was originally a third baseman before I came to Indian Hills," Kwakernaak said. "Last year, we had Claire (Tipton) there. She's still good at playing third base. I've just had some opportunities early in the season and I've been doing pretty good with them.

"It was cool way to end a game. (Hutchinson) was starting the hit the ball pretty hard. We were kind of under pressure the entire game. (Bailey Backhaus) smoked it, but I was right there. (Brie Backhaus) was just a little too much off third base. That was good for us. We were able to end it."

Kwakernaak's unassisted double play was the latest play made by the Warrior defense to escape a jam against Hutchinson. The Blue Dragons put runners on base in all seven innings against the Warriors, but only Jaeleigh Darnell was able to bring any of those runners home with RBI singles in both the first and sixth innings.

In between, Hutchinson stranded 14 baserunners. Ashlynn Sheets worked out of jams in each of the first four innings striking out four batters including back-to-back strikeouts to end the second after Hutchinson put the tying and go-ahead runners on base trailing 2-1.

"It was good to see Ashlynn kind of work through a couple of things," Indian Hills head softball coach Tarah Rayos said. "It was also good to see Sara (Reid) redeem herself a little bit after the opening game."

Reid, after giving up four runs on five hits over 3 2/3 innings against NIACC, held Hutchinson at bay after taking over for Sheets in the fifth inning. By that time, the Warriors had broken the game open batting around in the top of the inning bringing four runs across to open a 7-1 lead over the Blue Dragons.

"Once one player gets a big hit, it seems like everyone starts to connect," said Kwakernaak after driving in two runs in the fifth with a single before scoring on an RBI triple by Tatum Aragon. "We're not the same team as last year. We're probably going to hit nearly as many home runs. We're more of a team that can string together doubles and line drives. That seems to be working pretty good for us so far."

Indian Hills got a much different test from NIACC on Friday after opening the season against the Trojans two weeks earlier losing a 2-0 pitchers' dual inside Burlington's FunCity Turf. Friday's rematch saw NIACC hammer four home runs off the Warriors, including two off the bat of Katy Olive as well as a critical two-run tiebreaking home run in the sixth inning by Madisyn Kelley that gave the Trojans the lead for good.

Indian Hills showed resiliency throughout the opening game on Friday. The Warriors erased a 6-1 Trojan lead, scoring three runs in the fourth inning to cut into the lead before taking an 8-6 lead in fifth with a two-run double by Peyton Raley snapping a 6-6 tie created just a few pitches earlier by Larissa Miller's RBI single to right.

"We've been struggling a little bit at the plate. I think we've been pretty pitcher-dominant early in the season," Rayos said. "It was nice to see girls stepping up with their bats. There was good aggressiveness at the plate with runners in scoring position."

Trailing 11-8 entering the seventh, Indian Hills made one last run at a comeback win. Eva Fulk doubled in Miller and Claire Mathews with a two-run double to center, cutting NIACC's lead to 11-10, before Macy Kellar got Aragon to ground out to clinch the win.

"NIACC did a great job making adjustments. We also made adjustments," Rayos said. "It's going to be more of the same on Saturday. We'll see who will be dominant. We're ready to play NIACC again."

The Warriors will face the Trojans for a third time in 16 games to open the season. That will be the second game on Saturday for Indian Hills coming immediately after their second meeting of the weekend against Hutchinson, which is scheduled to begin at approximately 1 p.m.

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