JUCO softball: Warriors sweep NIACC, split with Rock Valley

Apr. 17—OTTUMWA — As the past week has proven, the weather in Iowa can change at a moment's notice.

The Indian Hills softball team didn't need much of a remainder about that. The Warriors experienced that sudden change during their last two home games last week, a satisfying sweep against NIACC pulling out the five-game season series against the Trojans after losing twice during the first three weeks of the season to the squad from Mason City.

Indian Hills put the opening game away in five innings, clinching the 9-1 victory in the bottom of the inning on an RBI triple by Hannah Simpson and game-clinching RBI single by Jenna Lemley minutes after a sudden storm blew through the area forcing a brief delay. The Warriors and Trojans went from playing under sunny skies to dodging rain drops and even a few hail stones.

"It definitely felt like there was some hail behind that rain. It was hitting me in the face and even going in my mask when I was back there behind the plate," Lemley, IHCC's starting catcher, said. "I was kind of having a hard time looking back to the dugout for the pitch call. It kind of hurt each time I turned my head that way."

Indian Hills put away the sweep on Thursday, holding off a late NIACC charge to clinch a 7-4 victory. Lemley's two-run home run in the bottom of the fifth of the nightcap helped the Warriors clinch the win, opening a 7-0 lead in a game that ended in cold, windy conditions.

"It was sunny, rainy, windy and cloudy all in one day," Lemley said. "It was like experiencing every season all at once."

Mother Nature tampered with IHCC again on Wednesday pushing back a scheduled Iowa Community College Athletic Conference doubleheader at Southeastern to Friday afternoon. Storms that included heavy rain and even a pair of tornadoes that passed through southeastern Iowa left the softball diamond at the Wagner Athletic Complex too saturated to play on Wednesday in Burlington.

The Warriors are coming off a weekend split on the road with NJCAA Division III powerhouse Rock Valley. Indian Hills bounced back from a wild opening game on Saturday, falling 15-7 in five innings, to win the next two games over the Golden Eagles closing out Saturday with a 10-5 win in game two before opening Sunday's doubleheader with a 7-2 win scoring five runs in the top of the seventh to pull away.

Rock Valley (15-12) salvaged a split on Sunday, taking the series finale 4-3 scoring a decisive unearned run in the bottom of the fifth on a tiebreaking RBI groundout by Molly Kable scoring Sam Vetter. Indian Hills put the tying run in scoring position in each of the final two innings with two runners reaching in the seventh before Alison Hassett struck out Julia Kwakernaak looked to clinch Sunday's nightcap for the Golden Eagles.

Sunday's loss snapped a string of nine straight games in which Indian Hills had scored seven or more runs. The Warriors have collected eight or more hits in each of their past 12 games, a streak Indian Hills hopes to continue both on Friday at Southeastern and beyond heading into the stretch run of the regular season.

"At the beginning of the season, we were trying to find our groove with the offense," Lemley said. "Our defense has been pretty strong all season and our offense is starting to really come around. We just want to continue to push to continue to be better."

The power of the Indian Hills line-up has also started to come around, hitting at least one home run in eight of their last 10 games bringing their season total to 36 in 42 games so far with the team's slugging percentage rising to .536. Ava Smith matched Kwakernaak over the weekend for the team lead with her ninth home run of the season coming in the five-run seventh-inning rally that secured Sunday's opening game for IHCC.

Smith also broke open the Warriors first win over NIACC last Thursday with an impressive two-run blast in the third inning of IHCC's eight-run victory over the Trojans. The freshman from Waukee was able to use a gusting wind flying out to left field to help send the ball over the fence despite a somewhat unorthodox swing at the ball that gave the Warriors a 4-0 lead.

"That was an ugly swing. I definitely lunged at that one to make contact," Smith said. "We've been doing so much lifting lately that I guess I got enough power to get it up in the wind. When I hit it, I definitely didn't think it was getting past the left fielder."

Claire Tipton added a pair of RBI hits in the opening win over NIACC, including a double that brought in Eva Fulk in the fourth before scoring on an RBI single by Tatum Aragon to give IHCC a 7-1 lead. Fulk, Tipton and Aragon opened the second game against the Trojans (20-18) with base hits, setting the table for a three-run rally in the opening inning giving the Warriors a lead they would not relinquish.

"Confidence has been a big factor for us. We know we're a good hitting team. There's not anybody that can completely shut us down," Smith said. "We hadn't been hitting the way we normally have earlier in the season, but we're getting back into that mode of being confident at the plate and knowing we are a good team."

After making the trip to Southeastern on Friday, Indian Hills (25-17) will be back home to open a four-game weekend series with Butler starting with Saturday's doubleheader at 1 p.m. The teams play two more games on Sunday at Hellyer Field starting at 11 a.m.

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