JUCO softball: Warriors get split with Iowa Western

Apr. 29—OTTUMWA — If the Indian Hills softball is going to back to the JUCO World Series, it will have to do so by finding success on the road.

Iowa Western ended the last chance for the Warriors to earn a share of the Iowa Community College Athletic Conference regular-season championship, winning the first of two games on Thursday at Romalynn 'R.L.' Hellyer Field. Indian Hills could not complete a late rally after falling behind 10-3 after five innings, falling 12-8 as the visiting Reivers clinched the top record in the ICCAC standings, earning home-field advantage throughout the postseason.

Indian Hills, however, had the last word in the second game of the doubleheader with Iowa Western. Julia Kwakernaak homered twice, lifting the Warriors to a 5-3 win reminding the Reivers how dangerous the eight-time reigning regional postseason champions can be.

"We realize we can be just as good as them (Iowa Western)," Kwakernaak said. "We just need to focus on having fun. We did that more in the second game."

The win over the Reivers in the nightcap showcased the formula that can allow Indian Hills to find a way to win a ninth straight regional tournament title. The Warriors first answered a pair of runs in the top of the first inning by Iowa Western, opening the bottom of the opening frame with three straight hits to immediately cut the 2-0 Reiver lead in half.

Ava Smith's groundout moved both the tying and go-ahead runs into scoring position. Claire Tipton line drive to left allowed Peyton Raley to score from third with Kwakernaak drawing an errant throw to third base, allowing the Warrior sophomore to come home to score the go-ahead run closing out a wild opening frame that saw the teams combine for five runs and eight hits.

"When we lost twice to them over at Iowa Western earlier this year, everyone remembered how that felt," Kwakernaak said. "We didn't want to lose twice. It was just as important to us to win this game as it's been for any win we've earned this season. We showed some strength. We showed some power. It proves that we are still a really good team and it is hard to beat us."

Allie Cromer's two-out RBI single in the top of the second inning tied the second game of the doubleheader at 3-3. The game remained tied until the bottom of the third inning, when Kwakernaak stepped up to the plate with one out and delivered her team-leading 13th home run of the season giving IHCC a 4-3 lead.

"I was hitting good last year, but I don't think I would have imagined at the beginning of this year that I'd be the team's leading home run hitter," Kwakernaak said. "I've been seeing the ball better. I'm just trying to do my thing and hit line drives. It just happens to go over the fence sometimes."

The drive over the fence in center by Kwakernaak proved to all the cushion that Sara Reid would need to put away Iowa Western in the pitching circle. After giving up three runs on six hits in the opening two innings, Reid would shut out the Reivers over the final five innings on just two more hits setting down 14 straight batters at one point before allowing a two-out single and stolen base to Moria Baxter in the seventh.

Kwaakernaak added her 14th home run in the fifth with another drive out to center, giving IHCC a two-run lead. One swing away from tying the game in the seventh, Ela Fitzpatrick popped up to second base as Reid finished off the doubleheader split securing her team-leading 14th win of the season for the Warriors.

"I just tried to have fun with it and tried not to do too much," Reid said. "Iowa Western is a good-hitting team. They're going to hit the ball. I just tried to limit the type of hits they got. I tried to make them hit everything on the ground. I just focused on doing my job and it worked out."

Iowa Western (33-17, 13-3 ICCAC) showed that hitting ability in the opening game. The Reivers connected on six extra-base hits in the regional-championship clincher, including four home runs, as part of a persistent 14-hit attack against the Warriors.

"Iowa Western is a very solid team. I can't take that away from them," Indian Hills head softball coach Tarah Rayos said. "We needed to cut it loose and start having fun. I think we did that in the second game, but Iowa Western made some good adjustments throughout the first game."

Indian Hills (30-21, 9-5 ICCAC) nearly staged an epic comeback with their hopes of a regular-season regional title and home field advantage throughout the postseason hanging in the balance. Trailing by seven runs entering the bottom of the sixth, a lead-off home run by Jenna Lemley ignited a rally that was aided by consecutive Reiver errors as well as a two-run single by Raley, cutting Iowa Western's lead to 10-6.

Iowa Western went to the bullpen, calling on Maddison Depencier as the Warriors ultimately brought the tying run to the plate with one out. Depencier struck out Hannah Simpson swinging before forcing Ava Smith to ground out, ending IHCC's last chance at stealing away home field hopes from the Reivers.

Instead, Indian Hills will have to open the postseason away from home. The Warriors head to West Burlington on Wednesday for the first two games in the best-of-three regional semifinal series with Southeastern starting at 2 p.m.

"We're a team that's hard to beat multiple times like that," Rayos said. "We just need to go out and execute our game plan. We've seen everyone else's pitchers at least once. It's just a matter of making the right adjustments and come out with the right type of fight.

"It's tough to lose any game, but as we get into the postseason, we have a lot more experience in these big games than some of the teams we're going to face. We just have to use that fight and feel in those big games to our advantage."