By SCOTT JACKSON Courier sports writer
---- — OTTUMWA — What a difference a day can make.
One day earlier, the Indian Hills softball team would have gone into the postseason after letting a big lead slip away at Southeastern and having to settle for another doubleheader split. It would have left IHCC opening the Region XI softball tournament Saturday morning on their home diamond as the fourth seed in the four-team double-elimination tourney.
One day changed a lot for the Warriors. Specifically, the outlook on their postseason hopes thanks to momentum gained by sweeping 12th-ranked (DI) Iowa Western on Thursday. The losses were the only two pinned on the Reivers in regional play so far this year.
Suddenly, the Warriors are a team with two signature wins. There also a team that has risen two positions in the regional standings as IHCC gets the second seed in the tournament behind the Reivers, giving Indian Hills (20-26) a matchup today at noon with Muscatine at Romalynn "R.L" Hellyer Field.
And in a tournament that's already been known for being completely wide open in the past, the Warriors made sure to remind everyone on Thursday that no one this weekend is unbeatable.
"Everyone knows each other so well. Nothing is surprising between us at this point and we all think we can win it," Overturf said. "It's not how you start, it's how you finish. Right now, our team is on pace to have a great finish to the year."
"We're coming off two really big wins. I think that pushed us even harder to perpare for this weekend," sophomore Hiliary Pennington added.
Pennington put the finishing touches on the day that could signal the change in the fortunes for Indian Hills heading into postseason play, scoring the game-winning run to complete the stunning sweep of Iowa Western as IHCC won 2-1 in game two on Kendle Schieber's one-out ground ball. Schieber also pitched the Warriors halfway to the sweep with a game-one shutout in the pitching circle, giving the Missouri freshman a team-best 11 wins this season.
"I'm confident in my team and I'm confident in what I can do," Schieber said. "I think we can do some pretty special things. I feel like everything's starting to go our way right now."
The two wins on Thursday were exactly what Overturf was looking for from his team heading into the postseason, putting Indian Hills back on the original pace he had been maping out since the Warriors season-opening trip to Alabama and Florida.
"We always talk about taking our season in thirds. That first third comes when we open the season starting on that southern trip," Overturf said. "This year, we had some girls admittedly come back a little more mentally beat up than they normally have, but over the second third of the season we're 18-15, so we've really played pretty well since we got back home."
Struggling to put together two consistantly good efforts, however, has been a problem this season for the Warriors. Since suffereing an 11-game losing streak on their season-opening trip south, IHCC's longest winning streak hasn't been longer than four games with Indian Hills only picking up three doubleheader sweeps all season heading into this week.
The Warrriors appeared headed for a fourth on Wednesday at Southeastern. After winning 6-2 in the opening game on the strength of a Schieber grand slam, IHCC opened up a 5-1 lead in game two and appeared to have the Blackhawks overwhelmed.
Errors, however, opened the door for a Southeastern rally. Six unanswered runs lifted the Blackhawks to a 7-6 win and yet another disappointing split.
"The disappointing thing about that last game is that we gave up those extra opportunities to Southeatern. That's something we can't afford to do if we want to win this tournament," Overturf said. "That was a disappointing loss to have and I don't think anyone designs having to play a final regional doubleheader that close to the postseason tournament, but the girls used the opportunity to bounce back in a big way."
Thursday, however, was a complety different situation for the Warriors. Indian Hills played with confidence and didn't give any extra opportunities to the Reivers, leading to Iowa Western being shutout for the first 11 innings of Thursday's doubleheader.
"I felt like we could hang with them even before Thursday," Schieber said. "We played right with them at their place earlier this year. We felt like it was our day to win."
"Iowa Western is the team everybody wants to beat. That's what really made a big difference for us (on Thursday)," Pennington added. "Knowing that they were unbeaten coming in here and knowing where they stand in the region makes us want to beat them that much more."
The 12th-ranked Reivers will have to have the shortest memories of their last outings on Hellyer Field as Iowa Western opens the regional tournament today at 10 a.m. against Southeastern. After IHCC and Muscatine meet at noon, the two losing teams meet in Saturday's lone elimination game at 2 with the two winning teams meeting at 4.
The Warriors know they may not have seen the last of Iowa Western, having lost the regional championship game to the Reivers each of the last two years. But in a tournament where seeds ranging from the number three to the number one have won it over the past three seasons, anything and everything has a possibility of happening before this weekend in Ottumwa is over.
"I asked the girls how they felt after losing that last game against Southeastern on Wednesday. They felt terrible. I asked them how they felt after sweeping Iowa Western Thursday and they felt estatic," Overturf said. "It's all about maintaining that positive emotion and momentum from game to game and inning to inning. You can't let it get away or you could let the season slip away pretty quickly."
"Every team is capable of winning this thing," Pennington added. "For us, it's just about trying to defend our home field and win a regional title here on our diamond."
2013 Region XI Softball Tournament All games played at Romalynn 'R.L' Hellyer Field, Ottumwa (All Indian Hills games heard on KMGO 98.7 FM and KMGO.com) Saturday, April 27 Game 1 - Southeastern () vs. No. 12 Iowa Western (), 10 a.m. Game 2 - Muscatine () vs. Indian Hills (20-26), Noon Game 3 - Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, 2 p.m. Game 4 - Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 4 p.m. Sunday, April 28 Game 5 - Winner Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4, Noon Game 6 - Winner Game 5 vs. Winner Game 4, 2 p.m. (If Necessary) Game 7 - Winner Game 6 vs. Loser Game 6, 4 p.m.