HILLSBORO, Mo. - Through the first month of the season, Makale Floyd had two starts for Three Rivers, pitched 10 1/3 total innings, and allowed a run per inning. She secured the No. 2 starter spot in April, and her ERA has plummeted.
"I don't know how many compliments I've had from umpires on her," Three Rivers coach Jeff Null said. "They say she's come so far from the beginning of the year."
Floyd was in the circle Saturday as Three Rivers beat Crowder 4-1 to win the Region XVI Championship. The Raiders also beat Crowder 12-4 earlier in the day with Kindi Puckett pitching for the Raiders.
"To hold down a team like that to one run, not in my wildest dreams did I think THAT would happen at this stage. (Floyd) has stepped up big time."
In her last five starts, including Saturday, Floyd has not allowed more than a run, and her ERA is now 2.44 with 8.79 strikeouts per seven innings. On Saturday, she allowed six hits and no walks with four strikeouts.
"Makale has been lights out the last month of the season. She's been just as good (as Kindi Puckett)," Null said. "We have two who are as good as anybody."
Three Rivers (40-4) will host the Region XI champion - either Iowa Western or Indian Hills - in a best-of-three series May 16-18 for the district title. The Raiders won't know their opponent until at least Wednesday. The district winner advances to the NJCAA World Series in Yuma, Ariz.
Three Rivers last went to nationals in 2018 when the tournament was in Utah. That team was led in the circle by Van Buren alumna Summer Shockley, who went on to the University of Missouri and returned to Three Rivers this season as the team's new pitching coach.
Floyd and Null both credited Shockley as one reason for Floyd's rapid improvement.
"I started working on my own a lot more outside of practice. When Summer came, she pushed me a lot mentally and physically, which helped my game a lot," Floyd said. "My drag foot, I wasn't dragging quick, and I was not on my toe as much. Just my stride and my arm speed, she fixed that."
Brianna Everett had two home runs on the day to give her 16 for the season, four behind team-leader and Region XVI Player of the Year Lauren Joyner. Allison Pingel set the team record of 21 home runs in a single season in 2018.
In the top of the seventh, Three Rivers was clinging to a 2-1 lead in the championship game, and Crowder (47-8) hadn't allowed a runner on second base since the second inning.
Leadoff hitter Jenny Morey slapped a grounder to left field and was on first when Everett stepped up with one out.
Everett, who was 3 for 4 in the game, swung at the first pitch and sent a high fly ball to right-center field as Morey held up.
"I was just praying that it was going over. I didn't think it was at first," Everett said.
By the time the ball landed, Everett and Morey were next to each other near first base and smiled as they trotted around the bases, Everett just a couple paces behind.
"Bri has been clutch all year. Again, she came up clutch, gave us some breathing room, and allowed Makale to relax a little bit. Big-time player," Null said.
Heading into the bottom of the seventh, Puckett was warming up just in case. But after finally getting some insurance runs, Null said Floyd got a little more leeway.
"I kind of forgot it was the championship until the seventh inning. That's when I got a little nervous. Other than that, I was just ready to win and play well," Floyd said.
She got a comebacker for the first out, then a routine grounder to second, but then gave up a single. Facing a 3-1 count, Floyd scooped up another grounder to clinch the region title.
"Kindi was warmed up and ready to go if (Makale) would have gotten in any more trouble," Null said. "Our confidence in her is growing and growing. Her confidence is growing and growing, and this will just be another stepping stone for her."
Crowder's Bailey Buffington allowed eight hits and two walks with three strikeouts.
Three Rivers 12, Crowder 4
Puckett allowed 10 hits and three walks with four strikeouts in the opener, while Crowder used three pitchers. Sydney Ward threw the first four and allowed four hits and five walks with four strikeouts. Buffington pitched an inning and allowed four runs, and Chelsea Beville pitched two innings and allowed three runs on two hits and two walks.
Everett, Kyla Puckett, and Fayth Rakes all had home runs. Rakes was 3 for 4 with two doubles and five RBIs. The bottom of the lineup led the offense, with the 5-9 hitters going 8 for 12 with nine runs and nine RBIs.
The game was tied at two heading into the fourth inning with Jaime Lee due up. Batting seventh, Lee singled, followed by back-to-back RBI doubles by Rakes and Blair Quarles, who later scored on a groundout.
Rakes added a two-run double in the fifth inning as Three Rivers build a 9-3 lead. And in the seventh, Kyla Puckett and Rakes both had home runs.