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JUCO softball: Warriors split weekend series with No. 11 Butler

Apr. 22—OTTUMWA — If Indian Hills sees Butler across the diamond again this softball season, it will be at the NJCAA World Series.

The Warriors got a weekend full of World Series-caliber softball in a thrilling four-game series with the 11th-ranked Grizzlies. Indian Hills erased 4-1 deficits in the first games of each doubleheader played on Saturday and Sunday, scoring five runs in the fifth inning of the opening game of the series on Saturday to earn a 6-3 win over Butler before pulling out a 7-5 decision in Sunday's opener on Ella Daugherity's two-out sixth-inning grand slam.

Butler, however, salvaged splits both days at Romalynn 'R.L.' Hellyer Field. Alivia Darbe's three-run home run in the third inning of Saturday's second game proved to be the difference in a 4-1 win for the Grizzlies before a four-run, four-hit rally in the second inning of Sunday's series finale held up in a 4-0 win for Butler to close out the competitive weekend set.

"I look at our record and we've played some really good competition. We've got some good wins under our belt," Indian Hills head softball coach Tarah Rayos said. "Playing them (Butler) four times, they obviously were able to make some adjustments, but playing them four times definitely makes us better. It was a good split for us. We went 3-3 against them this season. That shows what we're capable of going into the postseason."

Butler was the better team in all four games early, scoring 15 of their 16 runs during the series within the first four innings of each game. As a result, the Grizzlies held three-run leads in each of the first three games before opening the four-run margin of victory in the second inning of Sunday's second game.

The Warriors, however, proved to be the better team late in the series. Indian Hills outscored Butler by a combined score of 12-1 over the final four innings of the four games while putting at least one runner on base in 24 of the 26 innings that IHCC batted during the series.

"We've seen a lot of different styles of pitching this year. The girls have done a good job preparing for that pitching," Rayos said. "The girls are fighters. Even in the losses, we battled to the end. We had a lot of people step up throughout the weekend in a couple different areas."

Saturday's series opener saw Indian Hills (27-19) battle back after giving up two runs in the opening inning to Butler and stranding the bases loaded with one out in the bottom of the first. Hannah Simpson was also doubled off second base in the second inning on a line drive to shortstop hit by Eva Fulk, who was bidding for her second hit in as many innings, as the Grizzly defense stymied the early chances of the Warriors while opening a three-run lead in the fourth.

"We had a lot of runners in scoring position that we couldn't get home, but we just needed to continue to lean on each other," Fulk said. "The main thing we've been talking about is what to do when we have runners in scoring position. I don't think we ever got frustrated. We knew we were on that pitcher and we'd have an opportunity to score some runs."

The Warriors finally capitalized on those opportunities in the fourth inning of Saturday's opener. Jenna Lemley and Simpson each drew walks to open the inning before Courtney Locke reached on an error, loading the bases for pinch-hitter Ava Smith who finally put IHCC's first run of the weekend on the board with an RBI single cutting Butler's lead to 3-1.

Fulk, having already hit the ball hard twice against the Grizzlies, completely erased Butler's lead with a two-run double that drifted just out the reach of Butler centerfielder Krysten Moran tying the score at 3-3. Claire Tipton put the Warriors on top for good two batters later, driving in Larissa Miller with the second of the sophomore's three hits for IHCC in the series opener.

"I definitely felt like it was just a matter of time," Tipton said. "Our lead-off hitter was getting on base every single time. We had runners in scoring position early, we just couldn't get them in. We knew that, at some point, it was all going to bust loose for us."

Tipton scored an insurance run in the sixth inning of game one, giving Sara Reid a three-run cushion to protect. The Indian Hills sophomore pitcher stranded the tying run in the on-deck circle in the seventh as Miller put away the final two outs of the opening game at short.

Julia Kwakernaak gave IHCC their first early lead of any game against Butler, dropping a lead-off home run over the fence in left field in the second inning of Saturday's second game to put the Warriors up 1-0. The Grizzlies, however, responded in the top of the third with back-to-back one-out hits by Claire Lopez and Chloe Cardona to tie the score before a walk to Aly Hageman set up Darbe for a decisive three-run homer to left, giving Butler a sudden 4-1 lead.

The Warriors could not find a response in Saturday's nightcap, stranding five baserunners in the final five innings. Indian Hills brought the tying run to plate just once after falling behind in game two thanks to consecutive two-out hits by Kwakernaak and Simpson before Lopez robbed Miller of a potential run-scoring hit at second base to end the fifth inning IHCC rally

Butler (40-9) was back on top again on Sunday, scoring twice in the opening inning of game three against the Warriors before adding a pair of runs in the second to open a 4-0 lead. Indian Hills used the long ball to rally in Sunday's opening contest with a two-run homer by Simpson in the fourth cutting Butler's lead to 4-3.

Madison Nightinga extended Butler's lead to 5-3 in the sixth with an RBI double to score JaKayla McDaniel. Tatum Aragon and Kwakernaak both singled to open the bottom of the sixth before Courtney Locke was hit by a one-out pitch, loading the bases for the Warriors.

After coaxing Hannah Baranczyk into the second out of the inning, forcing a pop up behind home plate, Butler pitcher Cheyenne Handsacker had Daugherity down to her final strike with two outs in the bottom of the sixth. Needing just her third hit of the season to potentially tie the game, Daugherity delivered an even bigger swing driving a pitch over the fence in center for a thrilling grand slam, making her first collegiate home run an eventual game-winner as Alivia Ruble recorded the final three outs in the seventh.

"That's probably the biggest swing I've ever had," Daugherity said. "I had a job to do and I got it done. I had no idea it was a grand slam until I got back to the dugout. I just kept the approach simple and did what I had to do."

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