By Justin Whitaker
— Fireworks might be coming a month early this Saturday.
In the Class 3A IHSAA Softball State Finals between Tri-West (22-4) and Yorktown (25-4), the offensive firepower of both squads could be on full display at 4:30 p.m. at Ben Davis High School.
Of the eight schools remaining in the four classes, the Bruins lead nearly every offensive statistical category and the Tigers are not far behind. Despite playing 26 games, tied for the lowest amount of all state finals teams, Tri-West has the most hits (352), most runs (278), best batting average (.431), and most runs scored per game (10.69).
They are also tied for third in home runs with 17.
“Coming by those runs might be a little more difficult, but I have all the confidence that my team will continue to hit the ball as well as they have all year,” Tri-West coach Stacey Rogers said.
Yorktown has the third most hits (307), runs (221), batting average (.357) and runs scored per game (7.62) of the eight teams. The Tigers have hit 26 home runs, the most of any team remaining, led by junior Kendra Saunders who has 10.
“I’d definitely like to limit their home runs, but I know that we can return them if that’s the way the game is played,” Rogers said.
The key to victory for the Bruins especially resides in a simple statement with two explosive offenses paired together — score more runs than the other team.
“I know they score a lot of runs early and I know in their last two games, they came out on fire, scoring lots of runs at the beginning,” Rogers said. “That’s also what our goal has been the last month of the season, so we’re going to have to battle it out early and we’re going to have to limit their runs. I know we can score our runs, but we’re going to have to limit theirs.”
Tri-West features two thirds of its lineup batting .456 or higher. Senior catcher Taylor Heath paces the Bruins with a .597 batting average and also has 25 RBI and three home runs on the season.
Standout sophomore Claire Johnson has a team-high 45 RBI, seven triples, and six home runs while batting .480. Sophomore Lizzie Meyer has a team-high 53 hits and also has contributed 28 RBI, 11 doubles and a .530 batting average. Senior Alyssa Clark has 35 RBI, 45 hits and a team-leading 18 doubles.
Other notable offensive Bruins statistics include senior Kaitlyn Settlemoir’s 47 hits, 22 RBI and 10 doubles; senior Taylor Baggett’s 33 hits and 25 RBI; and junior Samme Miller’s 23 RBI on 31 hits.
Since losing two games to Lebanon on May 4, the Bruins have rattled off 13 straight victories. The entire lineup batting well is part of the reason for Tri-West’s end of the season run.
“All year long we had success one through four or five, now we really have one through nine,” Rogers said. “When one player is struggling, someone else that you least expect picks them up and gets a big hit.”
Sophomore pitcher Marita Van Dyke is 15-1 on the season with a 1.04 ERA and she has thrown 89 strikeouts. Rogers believes her sophomore is ready for the biggest stage of her pitching career.
“It’s definitely going to be the most pressure she’s seen all year long,” Rogers said. “She’s very quiet and focused and doesn’t let on to anyone, whether it be our team or their team, that’s she nervous.”
Besides sharing similar offensive abilities, this is the first appearance in the softball state finals for both schools. Tri-West and Yorktown are the only two schools of the eight making their state debut. After Saturday afternoon, the Bruins or Tigers will be leaving Ben Davis with their first softball state championship.
“It’s nice to hear names that you don’t hear all the time making it to the championship,” said Rogers, who said she’s the most nervous she’s ever been for a game. “It brings a lot of excitement to the town who hasn’t had an opportunity to have that type of excitement … For Tri-West, we’ve never had this type of excitement in the community for softball.”
Only a 22-minute drive separates Tri-West from Ben Davis High School so Rogers is fully expecting a pro-Bruins crowd.
“I think we might have the population of all three towns that include Tri-West at the game,” she said.