As the sun blazed down on the Tri-West Bruins softball team Thursday afternoon, the sounds of fundamental play could be heard throughout the diamond. The constant clank of a bat as players hit short-pitched balls to the opposite field, the smack of leather as fielders scooped up grounders, and the constant chatter of teammates communicating with each other around the field.
That early June afternoon of grass-roots drills was so much like day one for the Lady Bruins back in spring, yet one important factor had clearly changed. Back then Tri-West (24-4) would have been just happy to be in the position they are entering the Class 3A State championship against Yorktown (25-4) on Saturday, because back in March, the idea of a championship really hadn’t crossed their minds.
“I knew we had six-returning seniors, and nine-returning starters,” said Tri-West Head Coach Stacey Rogers with a smile. “So I knew we would have a better season than last year. Our goal might have been a little short-sighted, because we had a Regional championship in mind. We have just been able to continuously put hits together this season, and here we are, we are going to play in the State finals.”
Rogers’ Bruins, who in her first year as Head Coach helped Tri-West finish with a 17-12 record, have exceeded that goal and then some as they enter the school’s first appearance in the State championship game. That birth in the title can be due to a number of reasons, but none more obvious than the way the Bruins can swing the bat up and down the lineup.
“Well we spent a lot of time in the beginning of the season just hitting, hitting, and then hitting,” said Senior Catcher Taylor Heath. “It was really monotonous and all the girls got really tired of it, but all of that practice and all that monotonous hitting that was so unbearable, is why we are here. All that preparation was for today, was for this moment.”
Heath leads all batters on the team with a .597 batting average, while Sophomore Lizzie Meyer leads the team with 53 hits and .530 average, Sophomore third baseman Claire Johnson is hitting .480 with 45 RBI’s, and Senior Alyssa Clark has 18 doubles to go with a .469 average and 45 RBI’s. Those players round out a lineup that has scored double-digits in runs sixteen times throughout the season, including a 13-3 victory over Indian Creek in the Sectional championship game.
“It seems that is has worked out for us that we have hitters one through nine,” said Rogers. “Most teams have big hitters one through four, and it seems like everybody can get the job done for us.”
All hitting aside, the Bruins defense and pitching has been just as superb. Sophomore Marita Van Dyke has been outstanding for the Bruins so far this season, leading the squad with a 15-1 record and a 1.04 ERA entering this Saturday. For the senior catcher Heath, she has loved working with a younger comrade that she considers a good friend and an amazing teammate, and has taken pride in helping spread her veteran knowledge of the game to the younger Van dyke.
“I feel like it takes everything that I have to keep her calmed down,” said a laughing Heath.
“I feel like as I am sitting back there, every pitch, every play, every hit, is something that I can’t do anything about it once it is in the field. So I do everything to keep her calmed down, because if there is a mistake in the field, it’s not her fault if there is a batter on. If for some reason we get the bases loaded, it is so much pressure, especially if we get to a full-count. How does somebody handle that? So I smile, crack a few jokes, and get her to relax, get easy, and focus.”
That type of relationship between a senior catcher and sophomore pitcher came in handy last Saturday, when the Bruins faced-off against Boonville on the Semi-State championship. Tri-West had set the offensive tone early, as Clark and Heath went 6-6 with two home runs and five RBI’s between them to lead the game 5-1 in the final inning, but Van Dyke (after pitching a complete game in the semifinal over South Dearborn) loaded the bases up in the final inning. The Pioneers knocked in a couple of runs, but eventually Heath was able to calm Van Dyke down, who retired two straight batters and sent the team into the championship round with a 5-3 victory.
The Bruins now have a talented Yorktown squad standing in their way of the blue championship ribbons. The Tigers have outscored their competition in the State championship tournament by the impressive total of 60-4 over a course of a course of five games, including a 10-0 victory over Fairfield in the Semi-State championship.
“I’ve heard that they can hit, then again if you have made it this far, I’m pretty sure you can hit,” said Senior Kaitlyn Settlemoir. “But we have a really good defense, and I hope our defense can come through for us in what we need to win.”
Saturday’s Class 3A State championship game will take place at Ben Davis High School at 4:30 pm eastern time.