OTTUMWA – No matter how far they go or where the journey takes them, the season never seems long enough for Indian Hills head softball coach Jim Overturf.
The sixth-year coach of the Warriors was hoping that this year, at least, the third time would be the charm for the season to last a little longer then the previous two. Hopefully, the same ending wouldn't be written by the same team in the same game.
Indian Hills tried to avoid losing the Region XI softball tournament title for a third-straight year to Iowa Western. The Warriors faced the 12th-ranked Reivers twice over the weekend at Romalynn "R.L." Hellyer Field and fought the two-time regional champs to the final inning in each game with multiple chances to beat Iowa Western.
The Warriors were so close to regaining the regional title on their home diamond. Instead, they will travel back with Iowa Western to Council Bluffs as the Reivers capped a perfect 3-0 run through the regional tournament over the weekend by holding off IHCC 6-4 in the sixth and final game, clinching the title on Carrie Hudson's groundball to second with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh.
"It's never how you dream of it, but I'm very proud of the girls," Overturf said. "I'm really excited about the way they fought and stayed in it. They wanted this as bad as anybody. They came out and tried to get it done. Unfortunately, they came up a few runs short."
"I give credit to our people. They played hard to the end."
The drama of this year's Region XI softball tournament was something that lasted throughout all six games. The Reivers, who dropped two-straight games at Hellyer Field to close out the regular season to IHCC on Thursday, nearly found themselves having to battle out of the losers' bracket immedately as fourth-seeded Southeastern scored the first four runs of the tournament and held a 6-2 lead on Iowa Western in the opening game of the tournament Saturday morning.
"When you play each other so often, we know each other inside and out in this region at this point," Reivers head coach Lana Ross said. "It's really tight. This weekend is always anybody's weekend. It doesn't matter if you're 10-2 or 3-9. Anybody can win this tournament."
After scoring three runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to rally for a 7-6 win over the Blackhawks, the Reivers never trailed again in the regional tournament. Iowa Western matched up twice with Indian Hills, the team that battled the Reivers to the seventh and decisive game of the regional tournament each of the last two years.
IHCC joined Iowa Western in the winners' bracket game Saturday afternoon by winning its opening tournament game. The Warriors shook off two solo home runs by Caitlin Nichol and rallied for a 4-2 win over Muscatine, using a big two-run homer from Kaitlyn Matzen to take the lead for good in the fifth.
In the first matchup with the Reivers, Kendle Schieber made up for allowing a solo home run to Samantha Villegas by crushing one of her own in the second inning to tie the fourth game of the tournament at 1-1. Freshman Michelle Trulin then had a key two-run double during a three-run fifth as the Reivers opened a 4-1 lead, one of a tournament-best six hits for the Blair, Nebraska native.
"I just knew what kind of pitches I was going to be seeing, but I just had confidence I could put the ball in play," Trulin said. "If I got out, I got out. I wasn't afraid to put the bat on the ball."
After pulling within 4-3, sophomore Felisha Durflinger nearly erased Iowa Western's game-four lead twice in the sixth inning. With Laci Moore on first, Durflinger crushed a line drive to left that hooked just foul at the last second.
Durflinger nailed the next pitch for a double into left-center field, which looked like it would score Moore with the tying run from first. A quick relay kepy Moore at third, where relief pitcher Aubrey Voboril would strand the former Cardinal Comet by striking out Olivia Starcevich with the bases loaded.
"Softball's a game of inches. We were inches away from playing Sunday as an undefeated team needed just one win to win the regional title," Overturf said.
Instead, IHCC had to try and win three games in a row on Sunday. The Warriors got their first win by edging Muscatine 4-1 on the strength of a go-ahead bloop fifth-inning single by Moore and a two-out two-RBI sixth-inning hit by Kaylyn Decock.
Against the Reivers, however, small ball proved to be a big difference maker. Iowa Western opened up a 5-1 lead in the fourth inning, scoring three runs in the inning without hitting the ball out of the infield as consecutive suicide squeeze bunts sparked the rally.
"I had a feeling that KayCee (Miller) was going to squeeze in front of me," Morgan Hoeg, who had the last bunt that led to a pair of runs scoring, said. "Coach is all about keeping momentum going, so I knew when KayCee got her bunt down, I knew I was going to squeeze again."
"I just felt like we needed to shake some things up," Ross added. "I knew we were going to go back-to-back on the squeezes. I knew they weren't going to be expecting it. It does take a little bit of everything to win at this time of the year."
The Warriors didn't go away, thanks to sophomores Hiliary Pennington and Matzen. Pennington joined Jaylinn Tressler in reaching base in the fifth inning ahead of Matzen, who's region-best 14th home run brought Indian Hills back within 5-4.
"Every inning we kept coming in with the thought that we could right back into it," Pennington said. "Kaitlyn's such a great hitter. I just wanted to get on in front of her and give her a chance to drive me in."
No. 12 Iowa Western (39-11) will face the winner of Region XVI next weekend in Council Bluffs in the best-of-three District J championship for a berth in the NJCAA Division I National Softball Tournament. Indian Hills (22-28) will look to try again next year to finally overcome the Reivers and make a return to the top of the region.
"It wasn't the season we had in mind in terms of wins and losses, but in terms of how we finished I'm very happy with the year," Overturf said. "I wanted the girls to have the opportunity to win the regional title. They gave themsevles that chance. They had the bases loaded with two outs and were a hit away from maybe winning the thing. That's something that can make the girls hungry to get back here and work toward next year."
2013 REGION XI SOFTBALL TOURNAMENT
Indian Hills 4, Muscatine 2
Indian Hills 000 022 0 — 4 8 0
Muscatine 100 000 1 — 2 6 3
Indian Hills battery — Kendle Schieber (W, 12-11) (7IP, 6H, 2R, 2ER, 3K, 2BB, HBP), Kaylyn Decock catching.
2B — Hiliary Pennington.
HR — Kaitlyn Matzen.
Hits — Decock 2-4, Pennington 2-4, Felisha Durflinger 1-1, Olivia Starcevich 1-3, Matzen 1-4, Schieber 1-4.
RBI — Matzen 3, Starcevich.
Runs — Durflinger, Pennington, Starcevich, Jaylinn Tressler.
Muscatine battery — Kaitlyn Caston (L, 29-7) (7IP, 8H, 4R, 3ER, 5K, 2BB, HBP), Jamie Coultas catching.
2B — Julia Sass.
HR — Caitlin Nichol 2.
Hits — Nichol 3-3, Caston 1-3, Sass 1-3, Dana Suiter 1-3.
RBI — Nichol 2.
Runs — Nichol 2.
No. 12 (DI) Iowa Western 4, Indian Hills 3
Iowa Western 010 030 0 — 4 7 1
Indian Hills 010 020 0 — 3 7 2
Iowa Western battery — Ashley Schmidt (W, 23-5) (5 1/3IP, 7H, 3R, 2ER, 2K, 3BB) and Aubrey Voboril (S, 1) (1 2/3IP, 2K, BB), KayLee Miller catching.
2B — Michelle Trulin.
3B — Vanessa Molina.
HR — Samantha Villegas.
Hits — Trulin 2-3, Jena Gonzales 1-3, Molina 1-3, Rebekah Sanchez 1-3, Villegas 1-3, KayLynn Chrisman 1-4.
RBI — Trulin 2, Chrisman, Villegas.
Runs — Gonzales, Chelsey King, Trulin, Villegas.
Indian Hills battery — Kendle Schieber (L, 12-12) (7IP, 7H, 4R, 3ER, 4K), Kaylyn Decock catching.
2B — Felisha Durflinger.
HR — Schieber.
Hits — Durflinger 2-3, Carrie Hudson 1-1, Hiliary Pennington 1-3, Schieber 1-3, Jaylinn Tressler 1-3, Kaitlyn Matzen 1-4.
RBI — Matzen, Schieber.
Runs — Pennington, Schieber, Olivia Starcevich.
Indian Hills 4, Muscatine 1
Indian Hills 100 001 2 — 4 7 2
Muscatine 000 100 0 — 1 4 2
Indian Hills battery — Kendle Schieber (W, 13-12) (7IP, 4H, R, ER, 7K, BB), Kaylyn Decock catching.
Hits — Laci Moore 2-3, Decock 1-3, Felisha Durflinger 1-3, Carrie Hudson 1-3, Hiliary Pennington 1-4, Schieber 1-4.
RBI — Decock 2, Moore.
Runs — Durflinger, Kaitlyn Matzen, Pennington, Olivia Starcevich.
Muscatine battery — Amanda Williams (L, 13-6) (7IP, 7H, 4R, 3ER, 2K, 4BB), Jaime Coultas catching.
2B — Caitlin Nichol.
HR — Dana Suiter.
Hits — Nichol 1-2, Coultas 1-3, Suiter 1-3, Alex Tuminaro 1-3.
RBI — Suiter.
Runs — Suiter.
No. 12 (DI) Iowa Western 6, Indian Hills 4
Iowa Western 002 301 0 — 6 8 3
Indian Hills 001 030 0 — 4 9 2
Iowa Western battery — Ashley Schmidt (W, 24-5) (4 1/3IP, 6H, 4R, 3ER, K, BB) and Aubrey Voboril (S, 2) (2 1/3IP, 3H, BB), KayCee Miller catching.
2B — Morgan Hoeg, Vanessa Molina.
HR — Samantha Villegas.
Hits — Michelle Trulin 3-4, Villegas 2-3, Hoeg 1-3, Molina 1-3, Rebekah Sanchez 1-4.
RBI — Hoeg 2, Villegas 2.
Runs — Trulin 2, Miller, Hoeg, Sanchez, Villegas.
Indian Hills battery — Courtney Collins (L, 3-8) (3IP, 6H, 2R, 2ER, K, 3BB), Mackenzie Haight (3IP, 2H, 4R, 3ER, 2K, 3BB) and Kendle Schieber (IP), Kaylyn Decock catching.
HR — Kaitlyn Matzen.
Hits — Matzen 3-3, Decock 2-4, Laci Moore 1-2, Olivia Starcevich 1-3, Carrie Hudson 1-4, Hiliary Pennington 1-4.
RBI — Matzen 3, Decock.
Runs — Matzen, Pennington, Starcevich, Jaylinn Tressler.
2013 REGION XI SOFTBALL TOURNAMENT (All games played at Romalynn "R.L." Hellyer Field, Ottumwa) Saturday, April 27 No. 12 Iowa Western 7, Southeastern 6 Indian Hills 4, Muscatine 2 Muscatine 3, Southeastern 2 No. 12 Iowa Western 4, Indian Hills 3 Sunday, April 28 Indian Hills 4, Muscatine 1 No. 12 Iowa Western 6, Indian Hills 4