JUCO softball: IHCC sweeps Marshalltown in home opener

Mar. 20—OTTUMWA — They may not come in a record amount this year.

Make no mistake about it. The long ball is still very much a weapon the Indian Hills softball team can unleash at any minute to turn a game around.

It took just one inning on Tuesday for Claire Tipton to prove that. Trailing 1-0 after Alexia Jarrett connected on a two-out solo home run in the top of the first, the Warriors put two runners on in front of the sophomore third baseman.

After fouling off the first pitch she saw, Tipton made connect on the second pitch thrown by Kimberly Rodriguez. The ball sailed off Tipton's bat and landed over the fence in center field, giving IHCC three runs with one swing in the first of two Iowa Community College Athletic Conference wins for the Warriors over the Tigers on Opening Day at Romalynn 'R.L.' Hellyer Field.

After 24 games on the road to open the season, Indian Hills rolled in their first two homes games on Tuesday. Tipton drove in four runs and scored three times in a 10-1 win over Marshalltown to open the regional doubleheader before a grand slam by Ava Smith highlighted a 30-2 win for the Warriors in game two.

"We wanted to respond after (Marshalltown) got that home run in the top of the first. This is our home turf and we wanted to respond well," Tipton said. "When we played in Oklahoma over the weekend, there was some wind that left some balls that we hit hanging up in the air. We couldn't wait to get home and put some balls out.

"It was a great at-bat. I saw the ball well, put a good swing on it and it just connected."

The home run got a big day started for Tipton, who went 2-2 with a walk in game one. Tipton had two more hits in the first inning of game two, each of which brought in runs, as Indian Hills jumped out to an 8-0 lead sending 14 batters to the plate in the opening frame of the nightcap.

Tipton finished Tuesday's home opener going 4-6 with eight total bases and eight total runs driven in. After walking with the bases loaded in the third, Tipton would eventually come around to score her fourth run of the doubleheader as the Warriors put 12 runs on the board during the rally, opening a 27-run lead after just three innings of the nightcap.

"We have played a lot of ranked opponents. We've played a tough schedule and we've hung in a lot of games," Tipton said. "It's helping us in the long run. The end goal for this team is to make it back to the national tournament. The only way you can do that is by playing good competition. Seeing good pitching has helped us a lot. Having those reps has really helped get us ready for conference play."

Indian Hills (15-11, 2-0 ICCAC) followed up the go-ahead three-run homer by Tipton in game one by scoring six runs on six hits in the second inning. Tatum Aragon broke things open with a two-run double to right center, giving IHCC a 6-1 lead before run-scoring hits by Julia Kwakernaak and Courtney Locke increased the Warrior lead to eight runs.

"Claire's really been seeing the ball well. She had a couple liners off the fence on Sunday against Conners State, so she was due to hit one out," Indian Hills head softball coach Tarah Rayos said. "I think that just fired everyone up. We worked through a few kinks, but we've played such a competitive schedule. It was good to see us just jump on it."

Sara Reid overcame Jarrett's home run, allowing just four more hits over the final 4 1/3 innings striking out 11 batters in the contest. Reid briefly matched teammate Ashlynn Sheets by securing her sixth win in the pitching circle this season.

"I didn't think about that early home too much. I just tried to stay in my routine and tried to keep it smooth the rest of the way home," Reid said. "Our bats are coming alive. That's so much more fun to pitch behind an offense that's hitting the ball really hard."

Sheets became the first IHCC pitcher this year to earn her seventh win, allowing just two unearned runs in the third inning to the Tigers in game two on six hits while striking out four batters in five innings. The Warriors avoiding falling behind in the first inning of game two despite Marshalltown (0-4, 0-2 ICCAC) putting the first four batters on base as Grace Scott was off third base by IHCC catcher Jenna Lemley before Locke and Larissa Miller combined to turn an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play to keep the Tigers off the board.

Tipton, Smith, Locke and Peyton Raley all connected on run-scoring hits in the bottom of the first inning of game two to help IHCC jump out to an 8-0 lead. The Warriors kept right on scoring in the second inning, building an 11-run lead with two outs before Smith stepped up with the bases loaded and launched a deep fly ball that landed all the way out in the woods beyond left field for her first career grand slam, giving Indian Hills a 15-0 lead.

"It sounds arrogant, but I could tell right off the bat it was gone. We knew we were going to see strikes in that situation. It was just a matter of being ready to swing at the right time," Smith said. "It was definitely the hardest ball I've hit so far this season. It felt a lot better to do it here at home.

It was nice to be able to finally play at home. I was able to go to class and go through a normal routine before the game. We didn't have to rush to get on a bus to go somewhere else. It was nice."

Indian Hills was scheduled to be back home on Thursday, but weather has forced a doubleheader with NIACC to be postponed to a potential later in what would be the fourth and fifth games between the teams so far this year. The Warriors are next scheduled to host Southeastern, weather permitting, on Sunday in a regional doubleheader at Hellyer Field beginning at noon.

"It's nice to be home. We've definitely been scrambling around a little bit scheduling games due to the weather," Rayos said. "It turned out to be a beautiful home opener for us."

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