POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. - For the second time in four years, Three Rivers is headed to the NJCAA World Series.
The Raiders swept Indian Hills on Sunday to win the District J Championship, winning the opener 5-4 and the nightcap 5-1.
The tournament is scheduled for May 25-29 in Yuma, Ariz.
"I never thought this was possible. We did this (in 2018), and I thought we were as talented, but it seemed like everybody else loaded up with third-year kids," Three Rivers coach Jeff Null said. "If you go through our region, with the level of competition we have, and Indian Hills is a heck of a team, we can play with anybody."
Three Rivers (42-4) went to nationals in 2018, led by Summer Shockley in the circle. Shockley returned to the team this season as a pitching coach and has been credited with helping develop Three Rivers' five pitchers. The softball team also follows a successful run by the women's basketball team, who had an undefeated regular season and reached the national tournament semifinals.
"I can't say enough about them, and they both came up big today," Null said, "They're third-year players, and they've been through these kinds of battles. They stepped up, and that's leadership."
Bisby had six RBIs for the day and a three-run home run in the opener. She had all four Three Rivers RBIs in the opener and had an RBI double to drive in Morey in the top of the first inning of the nightcap.
"I couldn't do it without my teammates. Coach Null has been supporting me the whole way, and I'm glad we got this far," Bisby said.
Morey scored a run in each game, and the center fielder made a diving catch in the first game with runners on first and second and the Raiders clinging to a 5-3 lead.
"I'm so excited I (came back for a third year)," Morey said. "I feel like (both teams) didn't play our best, but we both wanted it, and it showed. They were gritty, but we were grittier."
Just like in the Region XVI championship against Crowder, it was Floyd with the ball in her hands at the end. After coming out of the bullpen to start the season, Floyd has not allowed more than one run in her past six starts. Both Crowder and Indian Hills were averaging more than nine runs per game.
"I didn't know if we had a No. 2 (pitcher)," Null said, reflecting on where the team was in February. "I didn't know how our pitching was going to be. There are five of them, and they are a staff. It starts with pitching, and we've got five really good ones."
Floyd allowed four hits and three walks with four strikeouts. Her last strikeout on a 2-2 count with a runner on second clinched Three Rivers' ticket to Yuma.
Floyd retired the side in the second and sixth inning and allowed more than two baserunners one time when the Warriors scored their lone run in the fifth.
With runners on the corners, clean-up hitter Chloe Olson got an RBI single to right. Floyd scooped up a comebacker to strand two, and she wouldn't allow another hit.
With Floyd not getting her first strikeout until the fourth inning, and four in all, the Three Rivers defense came up with several clutch plays.
First baseman Lauren Joyner got an unassisted double play in the first inning. In the fourth, Joyner knocked down a hard ground ball with runners on first and second. She couldn't make the play but slowed the ball down enough for second baseman Zoe Bisby to run behind her, pick up the grounder and throw to first for the out.
"Lauren had some big plays in this game. Double play and that one there to save a run. I was just going there to back her up, see if I could have it, knocked it off, and it was perfect in my hand," Bisby said.
The Raiders nearly turned a game-ending double play in the seventh, but it was ultimately a fielder's choice.
Ahead 1-0 in the fourth inning, Three Rivers had the bases loaded with two outs and Blair Quarles at the plate. Quarles had been suffering from shoulder pain in the doubleheader and was pinch-hit for in her previous at-bat in the second inning.
"I really didn't want to take her out of the game, and she said, 'Coach, I can do it. I can do it.'" Null said.
Quarles lined the first pitch up the middle for an RBI single.
Molly Spangler and pinch-runner Morgan Shockley scored unearned runs in the fifth, and in her next at-bat, Quarles put down a perfect sacrifice bunt down the third baseline to move courtesy runner Naomi Crowley to third. Crowley soon put the Raiders ahead 5-0 on Spangler's double.
In the opener, Puckett allowed eight hits and three walks with seven strikeouts. Three of Indian Hills' four runs were off a pair of home runs in the fourth inning. At the time, it cut Three Rivers' lead to 5-3, and the Raiders' energy took a step back.
During a timeout in the third inning, Null told Bisby to watch for the curve away, stay on it, drive it away and hit the scoreboard.
She got the pitch twice in a row, and she clanged the second one off the scoreboard for a three-run home run.
"We got a big laugh and a smile out of that," Null said.
Her ninth home run of the season ended an 0 for 12 drought over her past four games.
"I needed one. My teammates have been with me through this whole thing, I've been in a huge slump, but I couldn't have done it without them," Bisby said.
After going ahead 5-0 in the third inning, Three Rivers got just two more hits the rest of the game. Morey put down a bunt single in the fourth, and Joyner had a leadoff double in the fifth as Null called for his team to adjust to the pitching and get some insurance runs.
Indian Hills (41-13) stranded the tying run on first base in the fifth, and after Puckett retired the side in the sixth, Leadoff hitter Peyton Moffet singled, and Bryanna Mehaffy walked.
Nicole Bellis had a sacrifice bunt to move the runners for Olson, who is hitting .391 with 14 home runs.
With a full count, Olson hit a hard grounder to Spangler at shortstop, who knocked it down but didn't field it cleanly. Spangler grabbed the ball and threw to first in a bang-bang play for the first out.
A run scored, and the tying run held at second.
Puckett worked a full count before walking Kennedy Preston.
With the go-ahead run now at first base, Puckett worked a full count for the third batter in a row.
On her 29th pitch of the inning and 147th of the game, Puckett got a soft grounder toward third base. Kyla Puckett picked it up and threw to first to get the win.
Scott Borkgren - Daily American Republic