By Levi Payton
The Joplin Globe
NEOSHO, Mo. —
After having been bounced from the NJCAA district softball championships the past two seasons by Iowa Western, the Crowder Lady ’Riders weren’t in the mood to allow history to repeat itself a third time in the District K event on Friday.
The Lady ’Riders avenged their previous misfortunes with a 4-3 victory in Game 1 and an 8-5, nine-inning decision in Game 2.
With the wins, Crowder punched its first national championship ticket in five years.
“This is unbelievable,” Lady ’Riders freshman third baseman Carson Forge said. “To have a chance to go to the national tournament is a once in a lifetime experience. I didn’t plan on being (at Crowder), but coach brought me here this summer and it was probably the best decision I’ve made in my life. We played great and we came out with a win.”
This will be the ninth trip to national for the Crowder program. The tournament has been set for Canyons Complex in St. George, Utah, and will run from May 17-19.
In Friday’s opener, the Reivers (48-20) led 3-2 entering the top of the fourth inning before Crowder pitcher Kaily Harvey took over.
It took Harvey four pitches to put away the Reivers in the fourth, and set off a tear in which she allowed only one baserunner (a walk) the rest of the way. That meant there was no answer for Crowder’s two-out rally in the fourth, started by a triple from Jessica Neely. RBI singles by Shelby Stuck and Forge to make it 4-3.
Three was Harvey’s magic number. She allowed three each: runs, hits, walks and strikeouts. Stuck finished with three hits and three runs scored.
The momentum — and Harvey’s string of scoreless innings — carried over into much of the second game Iowa Western remained scoreless through the first four innings. The Reivers finally broke through with a run in the bottom of the fifth, but ended up stranding the bases loaded.
Forge, who already had a highlight reel’s worth of defensive gems on the day, answered with a solo home run in the top of the sixth to put the Lady ‘Riders (44-16) back in front 3-1.
Then it got interesting.
A leadoff walk to Cailin Simpson and the following double by Daleigh Fossler gave Iowa Western runners at second and third in the sixth. Taylor Jonas brought one run in with an RBI single, and another scored on a passed ball to tie it at 3-3.
Harvey, who appeared to be losing some steam on the mound, got a pair of quick outs in the bottom of the seventh before two walks and a passed ball put the winning run at third. But Jonas hit a hot shot that was snagged by Crowder shortstop Morgan Coleman to end the threat.
The Lady ’Riders took advantage of a passed ball to score a run of their own in the top of the eighth, only to have Iowa Western come right back to tie it on a two-out RBI single by Jordan Kerns.
With one out in the top of the ninth, Coleman singled and Navada Campos doubled. Kala Crisp then hit a sacrifice fly to score Coleman before Kirstie Ickes brought Campos home on an RBI single. Ickes advanced to second on a throw to the plate and Sarah Sagely brought her home with another RBI single. Neely followed with her second triple of the day to score Sagely.
Finally, the Lady ’Riders had enough. Harvey allowed a run before retiring designated player Vanessa Molina on a grounder to short to end it.
“I told the girls that the goal was to win both (games) today,” Lady ’Riders coach Lori Videmschek said. “I said I’ve been in this spot the past couple of years and we go and we win the first (game), lose the second and we end up losing the third one. I told them that it’s not happening today. This is a new year and a new team, and I told them that we were going to go out and win (both games).”
Both teams finished with 13 hits in the second game. Neely finished a home run shy of the cycle, stole two bases and added two RBI. Campos clubbed a pair of doubles and scored twice. Ickes had two hits and scored twice while Sagely also had two hits.
Jena Gonzales paced the Reivers with four hits and two runs scored.