Half of Three Rivers’ losses this season were against its next opponent in the Region XVI Tournament.
The second-seeded Raiders take on third-seeded North Central at 1 p.m. Friday in Hillsboro. With a win in the double-elimination tournament, Three Rivers will play at 10 a.m. Saturday. With a loss, it will play at 4 p.m. Friday.
“All four teams are some of the top-20 teams in the nation,” Three Rivers coach Jeff Null said. “I expect there to be a lot of really good games up there.”
In their two games this season, the Pirates won 12-4 and 6-5. They never played the postponed final two games of the season after coaches decided to end the regular season on April 27.
The loss came during a difficult stretch in mid-April where the Raiders cracked the top-20 national rankings for the first time all season, clocking in at 15th, then lost 3 of 4 against Jefferson and North Central.
“We just got off to a rough start, bad day,” Null said. “The girls definitely feel like we owe them a little bit. They seem pretty motivated this week for it.”
Since then, Three Rivers has won eight in a row and returned to the national rankings. The Raiders head into the semifinals ranked 19th, with top-seeded Crowder at 13th.
North Central is a defensive-oriented and small-ball team that is sixth in the nation in ERA.
“They have a really good pitcher. Offensively, they’re not as powerful as the other three teams, but they put it in play and run well,” Null said. “That works with their good pitcher they have.”
The Pirates’ No. 1 pitcher, Casey Stout (23-2), is second in the country with 259 strikeouts and fifth in strikeouts per game with 11.54.
“She’s tough. She’s a lefty, fastball, rise ball, changeup pitcher,” Null said. “She’s pretty crafty. The key for us is going to make her throw it in the zone, and she is hittable if you can make her do that.”
She has a 1.52 ERA and has allowed eight home runs in 161 1/3 innings.
“They’re scrappy,” Null said. “They are pretty good at what they do.”
Against the Raiders, Stout allowed four hits and three walks in five innings with six strikeouts. She allowed home runs to Jaime Lee and Kyla Puckett.
In the same game, Three Rivers was without its usual opening-game starter in Kindi Puckett (19-2), who has a 1.44 ERA and is averaging 9.44 strikeouts per seven innings.
A longball game would favor Three Rivers, which has four players with more home runs than the entire North Central roster.
Lauren Joyner heads into the semifinals with 20 home runs, one shy of the single-season record set by Allison Pingel in 2018.
Brianna Everett and Kyla Puckett each have 14, and Lee has 13.
“We need to be disciplined at times, but if we are, I think we’ll have a chance to be successful off of her,” Null said.
The Pirates have 10 home runs as a team, with Stout leading the team with three.
Three Rivers also has a .719 team slugging percentage compared to North Central’s .431.
Scott Borkgren - Daily American Republic