Indian River’s softball team, like many others in the conference, fought hard toward the state championshi p last year only to fall short. Only two teams make it to the big game, so it’s only natural that a few teams go home disappointed. But the best teams rekindle the flame – for a new season and another chance.
The Lady Indians lost a 2-1 nail-biter during the regular season to the eventual state champions, Sussex Central, on a seventh-inning game-winning homerun by Candace Shockley. The team was bumped by Sussex Tech, 8-3, in the state quarterfinals. But those games gave the Lady Indians something: the confidence to know that they can play anyone on any given day — even the state champions.
“I think we built and learned from our losses last year,” pitcher Kathryn Riley said. “We really didn’t have confidence in ourselves like we do this year. We played right with the state champs (Sussex Central) last year and that gave us a lot of confidence.”
Ravin Robinson’s replacement behind the plate, Sara Powell, didn’t play basketball this past season in favor of travel ball and extra batting practice, and all the hard work has paid off. She leads the team with three homeruns, including a grand slam that lifted her team 13-6 over St. Marks. Her third homerun, a two-run job, boosted her team past Southern Henlopen Conference rival Seaford for a 6-4 win.
When a player is hitting, making his or her shots or playing great cards, people mention the “zone” — a place where time stands still and sound isn’t heard. Powell is in this dimension now with her softball play, and it couldn’t have been more evident than in the bottom of the fifth inning against the Lady Golden Knights, with two outs and Riley on second.
In her first at-bat, Powell laced a hard-line drive into centerfield, so Sussex Central walked her on four straight pitches starting with her next plate appearance. It appeared they tried to walk her again after that, but Powell jumped all over it. She looped a base hit behind the first baseman and in front of the right fielder to score Riley, who motored around from second for the go-ahead score.
“When I’m up there (in the batter’s box) I’m so clear-headed because I know that we have such a good lineup,” Powell said. “I’m so relaxed.”
“It looked like they (Sussex Central) were trying to pitch around her, but she put the bat on the ball,” Browne said. “She did it. As hot as Sara Powell is, if a team tries to pitch around her we can go 1-9. Everyone can hit.”
Up one run and with two innings left, Powell had given her team the enough of an edge to win the game. All that was left was secure the last six outs.
“Coach Browne always says that once you get ahead to focus on getting the last six outs,” Riley said. “I think the adrenaline from getting the first run across helped me finish the game.”
In head coach Mark Browne’s words, Riley, who was 3-0, “pitched the best game of her career,” for a complete game, no-hitter, along with five strikeouts and only two walks — all against last year’s state champions. Riley’s counterpart, Brandy Jester, had one more strikeout with six but allowed seven hits, two earned runs and one walk.
“I’m so proud of Kathryn,” Browne said. “She mixed her pitches well, hit her spots well and changed speeds. I was looking for her to finish the game off and she did. This is a great building block for her.”
Though Riley had great stuff and kept her opponents off-balanced, there were a few times the Lady Golden Knights got hold of her pitches. It’s a good thing Browne and his coaching staff stress defense.
Sophomore Abi Buchler ended the first and second innings with two double plays — the first a tag and throw and the other a catch and tag — in addition to the bushel of routine plays she made. Brennan halted an attempt to move a runner from first to second on by charging a pop-up on a fifth inning bunt attempt. Powell and freshman shortstop Lindsay McCabe looked like they’d been working together for years when they tossed and tagged out a Sussex Central base-stealer.
“That’s how you have to play to beat a good team like that,” Browne said. “We really built some character today. We came in with nothing to lose and we beat the reigning state champs. We played loose and very well defensively. They hit a lot of balls right at us — sometimes they find holes.”
Sophomore first baseman Jordan Warrington found a hole and punched the second and final run in on a RBI single, driving in sophomore third baseman Hayley Brennan Lady for a 2-0 lead.
The Lady Indians were to play Woodbridge before heading off to Newark on March 31 and then start off next week with games at up-state Dover and Smyrna before playing non-conference Nandua on April 8.