By Jake Thompson
JASPER — Like a snowball being rolled down a mountain, the Tri-West Bruins softball team continues to gain momentum in their postseason run through the state tournament and show no signs of stopping.
The latest victims to be engulfed by Tri-West were the Boonville Pioneers as they stood in the way of the Bruins and the school’s first semistate title.
Tri-West started fast and then closed strong to outdistance the Pioneers 5-3 for the Class 3A, Jasper semistate title and a chance to play for a state championship.
“This team deserves it more than anyone,” Tri-West coach Stacey Rogers said. “It just keeps happening and it’s hard to put into words because they’ve worked so hard for this. To see it come true is just so amazing.”
All three facets of the Bruins’ game were on display for everyone to see Monday night and, unfortunately for the Pioneers, each was as impressive as the next.
Sophomore pitcher Marita VanDyke threw two games in one day for the first time all season and was rock solid from the mound while fighting through nervous pressure.
“It’s definitely on me and I know the seniors are counting on those pitches,” VanDyke said. “But I know if I don’t hit those pitches I have my defense back there. I don’t let (pressure) roll off and it’s in the back of my head that we have to get this done.”
Tri-West senior Taylor Heath helped VanDyke through a couple of rough spots in the game, bringing a smile and words of encouragement to the mound each time.
“There’s just no better way to deal with stress than to laugh it off,” Heath said. “I’m speechless at this point, I’ve played travel ball al my life and nothing has ever meant this much”
Senior Alyssa Clark went 3 for 3 from the plate with no one hit being more important than her first. With two outs in the top of the first and Claire Johnson on first base after being walked, Clark sent a monster shot over the scoreboard in left field. The homerun gave the Bruins a 2-0 lead and their confidence swelled.
“When you hit it you just know and that one was one of those,” Clark said. “This really means a lot. I’ve grown up with all these girls and it’s been amazing to go on to state.”
Boonville responded in the bottom of the second as Maddy Conner hit a solo homerun of VanDyke to pull within a run of the Bruins.
In the top of the third, Kaitlyn Settlemoir led off with a single, advanced to second on a passed ball and after a sacrifice bunt by Lizzi Meyer, landed at third with two outs. Clark stepped up again for Tri-West, bringing in her third RBI of the game with a single and the Bruins took back the run they had given up.
The teams remained scoreless until the top of the sixth as Heath sent her second homerun of the day over the fence. Heath’s two-run shot brought in Taylor Baggett from second and the Bruins looked to have the game well in hand headed to the last frame.
Heath finished 3 for 3 from the plate with two singles and the homerun.
Boonville showed its resiliency in the last half inning, plating two runs and narrowing the lead to two runs, but Tri-West closed out the Pioneers’ season as VanDyke recorded her first strikeout of the game for the win.