HILLSBORO, Mo. - North Central got twice as many hits as the Raiders but didn't get them when it mattered most.
Powered by Jaime Lee's three-run homer and a clutch finish by pitcher Kindi Puckett, Three Rivers beat the Pirates 4-3 in the winner's bracket semifinals of the Region XVI tournament Friday in Hillsboro.
The Raiders advance to play Crowder at 9 a.m. Saturday in the double-elimination tournament. With a win, Three Rivers will have a chance to win the Region XVI championship at 4 p.m.
With a loss, the Raiders would play the winner of North Central and Jefferson at 1 p.m., then need to beat Crowder at 4 p.m. to force a winner-take-all championship game at noon Sunday. The Raiders are 3-1 against Crowder this season.
"We're going to try to stay in the winners' bracket as long as we can in this tournament. The pitchers are just too good," Null said.
Against North Central (40-13), Three Rivers (34-8) matched its season-low of three hits and had seven total baserunners.
"It was a tough ballgame. Pitcher threw well, three mistakes, I think," Null said.
Lee then sent a 2-2 pitch over the left-field fence to put the Raiders ahead 3-0. It was Three Rivers' first hit of the game and her 14th home run.
"At that point, we were thinking we were going to get rolling, kind of what we've done all year," Null said. "It was short-lived, and they got right back in it."
Stout struck out the side in the fourth inning and finished with six strikeouts in all. As she kept the Raiders off the basepaths, North Central tied the game.
"We had trouble laying off of the (rise ball)," Null said. "We were overly aggressive at times."
Lindsay Batson singled and scored on a sacrifice fly in the third inning, breaking up Puckett's no-hitter in the process.
In the fourth, Rylee Sensenich and Maycee Edgar singled to put the tying run on first base with nobody out.
With the bases loaded, two outs, and a full count, Puckett walked No. 9 batter Kori Hornaday, and leadoff hitter Erica Sandavol singled to right to tie the game.
With the bases still loaded, Puckett (20-2) scooped up a grounder and threw to first to escape.
North Central, which stranded seven baserunners compared to two by Three Rivers, wouldn't get another player on third base.
Puckett needed eight pitches to get the first out of the seventh inning, a grounder to shortstop, and needed 10 pitches to strike out Abby Dobbins.
With two outs, Stout singled the first pitch she saw to put the tying run on first base, but Puckett struck out Sensenich to get the win.
Puckett finished with nine strikeouts against four walks and six hits.
"Kindi, she gutted it out. She kind of tweaked her back in the first inning and fought through," Null said, adding he hasn't decided who will pitch against Crowder. "We have Makale (Floyd), who has been throwing as well as anybody lately ... Either way, they have both beaten Crowder before."
Friday was the seventh time Three Rivers scored fewer than five runs in a game this season. The Raiders are now 5-2 in those games and 5-1 in games decided by one run.
Scott Borkgren - Daily American Republic