END OF THE LINE: Raiders reach final 8 before being eliminated from NJCAA National Tournament

END OF THE LINE: Raiders reach final 8 before being eliminated from NJCAA National Tournament

YUMA, Ariz. - All Three Rivers coach Jeff Null wanted was for the Raiders to play with heart.

"If they lose, everybody here is good. If you lose, you're going to lose to a good team. Just play with heart, fight until the end," Null said. "That's all I ask. Last night they did that and pulled it off in the seventh. Today we just came up a little bit short in the seventh."

Three Rivers had the tying run on third and the walk-off run on first base in the bottom of the seventh but couldn't get the needed hits and lost to Seminole State 6-5 in the NJCAA National Tournament on Thursday in Yuma, Ariz.

"We worked our tails off to get here. I couldn't have asked for a better way to end my season," said third-year sophomore and home run derby champion Zoe Bisby. "It sucks that we lost, but I'm proud of us. I'm proud of how we fought. We didn't back down, kept fighting the whole way."

The Raiders (44-6) went 2-2 at the national tournament and reached the final eight teams, accomplishing at least for now, Null's long-term goal of making Three Rivers a top-10 program.

"These kids, and that heart and fight, that's what got us there. That's one thing I never want to lose in our program, is that kind of work ethic," Null said.

The Raiders fell behind 6-0 through three innings against Seminole State (47-5). After a series of walks, errors, a passed ball, and eventually a two-run home run by Julie Kennedy.

After Kennedy's home run, putting the Trojans ahead 6-0, Null brought in Kindi Puckett for starting pitcher Makale Floyd.

Puckett allowed five hits and no walks with three strikeouts in five innings as Three Rivers worked its way back.

"Everything was working. Curve, screw, rise, all of it. That was my best game in a while. I've been struggling with walks and letting them hit, and I didn't let anyone score that game," Puckett said.

Pinch-hitter Anna Besand singled to left to score pinch-runner Morgan Shockley, who went from first to third on a grounder to right.

"Everybody I threw in there, they did their part and were helping out. They kept fighting and pulling for each other, and I'm super proud about that. I can handle the loss when they go down like that," Null said.

Molly Spangler scored Blair Quarles with a sacrifice fly, and Brianna Everett cut the lead in half with an RBI single to score Besand.

After Puckett stranded two in the top of the fifth, Blair Quarles singled to left. The ball went through the right fielder's legs and a second run scored on the error, cutting the lead to 6-5.

Both pitchers retired the side in the sixth, and Puckett stranded two more in the seventh.

Kyla Puckett, who tagged a runner for the final out to defeat Chattanooga State in the previous game, doubled with one out. Makenna Moore entered as a pinch-runner, and Kyla Puckett exited, having gone 2 for 4 with two doubles and a run.

With two outs, Quarles fouled off her first two pitches to fall behind in the count.

With a 1-2 count, she hit a grounder at the shortstop, and Quarles beat the throw to first while Moore advance to third.

"It was exciting and scary in the moment. I'm just glad to get that hit down," said Quarles, who was 2 for 4 with a run and an RBI. "I was thinking, 'We have this. We can do it.' It was just a matter of who wanted it, and we tried our best."

However, Kennedy came up clutch with one of her two strikeouts to end the game.

Evy Aud (7-0) got the win for the Trojans. She pitched four innings and allowed 11 hits and a walk with two strikeouts. Kennedy allowed two hits and two strikeouts over three innings to get the save.

Floyd (10-3) allowed five hits and two walks with two strikeouts in two innings.

"When we leave here, it's going to sting because we can compete with anybody out here," Null said. "There's not one team out here, if we play well, is head and shoulders better than us. We're going to grow a lot as a program from this, and we're going to be back again."


Scott Borkgren - Daily American Republic