Crowder College

Crowder College’s softball team went up to Iowa this past weekend to face the giant with a trip to the National Championship Tournament on the line.

The Roughriders returned to Neosho as the giant killers.

Crowder swept host and No. 16 Indian Hills by scores of 6-0 and 7-6 to capture the Midwest District title on Saturday afternoon in Ottumwa, Iowa. The Roughriders, improving to 53-8 overall, are set to make their first appearance at the national tournament since 2013 and 11th overall as a program.

“It’s a big thing for us,” Crowder coach John Sisemore said. “We’ve been so close many times. We’ve been one of the best teams in the country so many times. We just didn’t have things go like we anticipated. Finally, everything lined up for us.”

And the odds were stacked against the Roughriders.

Sismore admittedly said his team had their work cut out for them last week. Indian Hills, boasting a heavy-hitting offense, featured two of the nation’s top power hitters in Sydney Anderson and Destiny Lewis, who have slugged a combined 61 home runs this spring.

As a team, Crowder has just 31.

However, the Roughriders made up for that with their talented pitching staff. Crowder limited Indian Hills to six runs all weekend.

“We competed against a really talented, phenomenal offensive team in Indian Hills,” Sisemore said. “We had to go to their place and play on a short field with a huge fanbase. We went up there facing the giant with a lot of support and phenomenal facilities. Everything looked like it was stacked against us. We went up there and our kids got the job done. It’s a big deal for the program.”

Maura Moore, the Region 16 Pitcher of the Year, shined in game one as she hurled a complete-game two-hit shutout. Moore (12-2) punched out eight batters and walked two.

The Roughriders were buoyed by three-run outbursts in the third and seventh innings. Marissa Mitchell headlined the offense by going 2 for 4 with a home run and four RBI.

But the story of game one was the pitching performance of Moore.

“When we sat down and looked at their hitters, we knew we’d have to be very careful in situations,” Sisemore said. “We’d have to go up there and not give them many balls to deal with. Maura executed a phenomenal game plan and never wavered. It was almost to perfection to execute a game plan against the best hitters in the country.”

Facing a 6-4 deficit in game two, Crowder forced extra innings with two runs to tie things up in the seventh. After Seneca product Chelsea Beville pitched the first seven innings, Sisemore went back to Moore, who posted a zero in the top of the eighth.

“We were in the best place we could possibly be going to the bottom of eighth,” Sisemore said. “We were at the 9-hole (Cassidy Lear) and we were going to turn it over to the top of the order. We were in good shape offensively.”

Lear worked a walk to get things going. At the top of the order, Ava Sarwinski followed with a single and 2-hole hitter Jesseniah Cox dropped a sacrifice bunt to move both runners into scoring position with nobody out.

Courtney Storey, the Region 16 Player of the Year, stepped to the plate for the Roughriders and sealed it with a walk-off single up the middle.

Crowder will play in nationals from May 24-28 in Yuma, Ariz. A send-off celebration will be held at noon Thursday at the softball field.

Since there’s a possibility the team will have to play under the lights, Sisemore said his team will practice at Neosho High School’s turf field on Tuesday and Wednesday evening to get a feel for night softball.

“Neosho High School has been so kind to us all year long,” Sisemore said. “We are still banged up, too. This week will give us a few days to get healed up before we go to nationals.”

Sisemore anticipates a bracket for nationals to be released as early as Wednesday.

“We’ll know Wednesday, for sure,” he said. “We’re looking at it and we’re anticipating we’ll be somewhere in the middle.”

The Roughriders have one national championship in school history, which was in 1986 coached by Annie Westfall. Crowder lost its first game (in an eight-team field) before rebounding to win the title.

Crowder also has two runner-up finishes and one third-place finish in nationals.

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