Fresh off the best season in school history, Three Rivers is getting set to try for another run at the NJCAA Softball National Championship.
The Lady Raiders lost their top two pitchers, though. Summer Shockley, who finished last season with 26 wins, eight losses and two saves, transferred to Missouri. Macy Rogers, who had a 12-3 record a season ago, isn’t playing anymore.
With the changes at pitcher, a trio of freshmen will have to step in and get the job done in the circle. Abbey Gann, a freshman from West Plains, will take the role as the team’s starting pitcher, while Saje Kurpiela and Adrienne Stucker getting work in the number two spot.
While that trio gets acclimated to playing at the collegiate level, the offense will have to shoulder the load and help make up for any possible growing pains on defense.
“Our offense is going to have to carry us,” Three Rivers coach Jeff Null said. “That being said, our offense, I think, is pretty good.”
The offense having to carry the team might not be a problem, though. Three Rivers returns several key bats from a season ago. Allison Pingel, who shattered the program’s single-season home run record with 21 on her way to becoming an All-American, returns to her clean-up duties. She’s one homer away from tying the school’s career record. She also broke the single-season school records for RBIs (84) and slugging percentage (.864).
Kristyn Carpenter returns in the two spot in the batting order. Last year, she recorded 20 doubles, two shy of the school record, and would’ve set the single-season RBI record if it weren’t for Pingel’s monstrous season at the plate. Carpenter batted in 64 runs, the second-best mark in school history, while scoring 71 runs to break the school record.
Gracie King makes her return in the three hole. A season ago, King earned 61 RBIs, good for the fourth-best single-season mark in program history.
Freshman Lana Reed should make an impact in the fifth spot, too. She knocked a three-run homer in the team’s first game of the season at Arkansas State, a 13-5 win.
“I think the growing pains we are going to overcome quickly with pitchers as it is, but I think having that extra power in the lineup is going to make a big difference,” Pingel said. “Lana is going to hit several home runs to help us out, and I hope to produce just as much as I did last year. I know Gracie King is going to rise above, so is (Carpenter). I think us four right there in the middle are going to work together to add those runs to the board.”
Add freshman Jennifer Morey in her leadoff role and the depth of the batting order gives the Three Rivers lineup some potential to have another special year. In two games this year, Morey is 4 for 7 with a pair of runs and an RBI.
“Morey is going to kind of be in the same role as Randi Scruggs was last year for us in that leadoff spot, so I don’t think we’re going to skip a beat there,” Null said. Now, our bottom half of the order is where I think we’re going to be a lot stronger. … Our kids that were batting six hole for us this year are batting eight or nine hole this year, so our lineup just lengthened out.”
The biggest change Null noticed in his team this year is that depth, which gives him the ability to adapt a game plan that fits the team’s opponent. He said they can go with power at the plate or rely on speed with both getting the job done.
A specific example Null mentioned was last year’s region championship game against Crowder, saying they’re more of a speed matchup.
“We have a few speed people and we have a lot of power,” Null said. “I think that was the difference last year is we kind of lived on the three-run homer, you know, and we were able to pop a few against them.”
The ability to adapt and tweak lineups to suit what’s working has already shown this season. In the team’s first game against Arkansas State, Zoe Bisby started 0 for 2 and was struggling against a pitcher with slower speeds. Null subbed Bisby for freshman Lexi Campbell, and Campbell had a 2 for 2 day with a double and four RBIs.
“That kind of opened the game up for us, so yeah, we have kids that do different things, and they’re all going to realize they have to be ready to go because Lexi kind of got thrown in there all of a sudden for somebody that was struggling or whatever. She stepped up, so it’s a team effort, and we have a lot of weapons. Unfortunately, you can only start nine.”
The depth can help Three Rivers in so many different ways. With the home run power at the three, four and five spots in the lineup, Null said putting players like Pingel, Reed or King on base is no longer an option because all nine spots can put the ball in play and make solid contact.
“We definitely have a lot more depth,” Pingel said. “I say that it’s going to make a difference — one through nine — because we don’t have a hole in the lineup this year, a spot to worry about, because everyone has a chance to get on base just as much as the next one. And that adds more RBIs for power hitters, and it just adds more runs to the board overall.”
Three Rivers will move forward hoping that depth can guide them back to the national championship for a second straight season.
Nate Fields - Daily American Republic