By Jake Thompson
INDIANAPOLIS — There’s an old adage that goes, ‘It’s not how you start, but how you finish that counts’ and the Tri-West Bruins softball team epitomized that saying through the end of its season, postseason and finally, with a state championship game.
Tri-West rode a seven-game win streak into sectional play, recorded six wins as they entered the state title game and went out with a strong seventh inning to clinch the 29th annual 3A state softball championship with a 7-4 with over Yorktown.
Clinging to a 5-4 lead heading into the top of the seventh, the Bruins needed some room to breathe and with two outs, sophomore Claire Johnson’s two-run homer gave Tri-West a three-run cushion.
“I had a feeling (it was a home run), it was a shot,” Johnson said grinning. “I was glad I could help out my team in any way. It was just coming right down the middle… to get those two insurance runs helped a lot.”
The win was overwhelming for many of the Bruins as they celebrated after the final out in the middle of the infield, gripping each other tightly as tears lined their cheeks.
“I don’t know how many times we’ve cried in the last week,” Tri-West coach Stacey Rogers said. “We’ve cried happy tears, sad tears, hurt tears and I’m happy that in the end all of our tears are happy tears.”
Tight the entire game, neither team took control until the last inning. It was a contest that had five lead changes and each squad gave one another their best shots.
“It was tough to go back and forth and my team hasn’t had to come from behind all year long,” Rogers said.
Tri-West stepped up in the most pressure packed of situations, both offensively and defensively. The Bruins scored five runs with two outs and as Yorktown loaded the bases twice, Tri-West only gave up one run.
“Everyone did a great job of coming through when it had to be done today and I’m thankful for that,” Rogers said. “That’s a lot of pressure when we were tied or behind with runners on base with sometimes less than two outs. It was tough.”
It was fitting the end of the game came through three consecutive outs on two throws to first and a catch at the hands of senior shortstop Kaitlyn Settlemoir.
Settlemoir had the opportunity to catch a foul ball in the first inning for the initial out and fought through an umpire to get in position, but dropped the ball. Yorktown’s Katy Johnson took advantage and hit a homerun, putting the Tigers up 1-0.
“I wasn’t down and our motto has just been ‘Look up, get up and don’t give up,’” Settlemoir said. “All I was thinking was just to keep my head up and everything would be fine.”
Everything would be fine, eventually.
After a scoreless second inning, Sammie Miller recorded the first hit of the game for Tri-West in the third and scored on a double RBI by Kristy Rawlins. Settlemoir then singled to bring in Rawlins for a 2-1 lead.
Yorktown answered with a run in the bottom of the frame to tie it up and added another run in the fourth to pull ahead 3-2.
Tri-West scored in the fifth with two outs as Lizzi Meyer’s single brought in Settlemoir to knot up the score at 3-3.
A Yorktown homer in the bottom of the fifth gave the Tigers their last lead of the night.
With two outs in the sixth, Taylor Heath singled and Lacey Meyer came in to pinch run. Sydney Schrack pinch-hit for a single, putting two on base. Miller hit a two-run double and the Bruins led by one.
Johnson’s two-run shot in the top of the seventh ended any chance of a comeback for the Tigers.
Tri-West sophomore Marita VanDyke (16-1) threw seven innings and gave up 13 hits, but only four runs to go along with four Ks. Her performance under fire drew praise from her coach and team.
“Marita can handle pressure better than anyone I know,” Settlemoir said. “With bases loaded and a full count, she will throw a strike. She’s not afraid of pressure and she’ll fight through it.”
Tri-West’s Alyssa Clark was awarded the Class 3A IHSAA Mental Attitude Award Winner, something that had the senior teary eyed when describing what it all meant.
“I’m going through every emotion possible,” Clark said. “I was crying and balling and it’s just an honor to be nominated for that and to win it, especially. It’s indescribable the feeling right now.”