Even after all the injuries, the searching for new players and shuffling of positions, the IVCC softball team is right where it wants to be.
In a season full of ups, downs, injuries and bad weather, the Lady Eagles are headed to the region’s final four for the 13th time in 15 seasons.
In Wednesday’s NJCAA Division II District 4A Tournament best-of-three quarterfinal, IVCC swept Carl Sandburg 11-0 in five innings and 10-7 to advance to this weekend’s final four.
“This really means a lot,” IVCC sophomore third baseman Olivia Harcar said. “I felt like we really had a lot of pressure on us because we wanted to make it to the final four. Last year, we went to the (region) championship game, and now that we got these wins, anything can happen.”
After sweeping No. 5-seeded Carl Sandburg, No. 4 IVCC (13-16) will play top-seeded Black Hawk (23-11) at 11 a.m. Friday in the first game of the two-day, four-team double-elimination tournament at Read Park in Freeport.
If the Lady Eagles can win the tournament, they will play at the Division II national tournament in mid-May in Clinton, Miss.
“Last year really did prove to the girls that anything can happen at the region tournament,” said 15th-year IVCC coach Cory Tomasson, whose team won two games the first day last spring to move a win away from nationals but dropped both games the second day to finish second. “Every year there’s one- or two-run games up there that determine who goes to nationals, and it’s anyone’s call what is going to happen.”
IVCC 11, Carl Sandburg 0 (5 inn.)
The Lady Eagles brought the bats in Game 1.
After a scoreless first 2 1/2 innings, IVCC exploded for a five-run third inning and added six more runs in the fourth to cruise to the win.
“I know their pitching is down because of an injury, but it was nice that we were able to jump on them fairly early,” Tomasson said.
Every hitter in the IVCC lineup either drove in or scored a run as the Lady Eagles had 12 hits.
Harcar, Liz Whitaker, T.J. Chapman and Taylor Schmidt — the Lady Eagles’ Nos. 2-5 hitters — all had two hits, while Michaela Cassel drove in a team-high three runs.
In the circle, Tiffany Lindsay shut down the Chargers offense as she threw a five-inning, four-hit complete-game shutout.
“Tiffany Lindsay pitched a great game,” Tomasson said. “She had a good command. They hit her periodically but nothing real drastic.”
IVCC 10, Carl Sandburg 7
Looking to complete the sweep, the Lady Eagles rolled early in Game 2 as they scored a run in the first and four in the second to take a 5-0 lead.
However, in the third and fourth innings, errors doomed IVCC.
In the third, an error allowed Carl Sandburg to score four unearned runs to pull to 5-4.
After IVCC pushed the lead to 7-4, an error allowed Carl Sandburg to score three unearned runs to tie the game after 3 1/2 innings.
“The key to our whole season is errors,” Tomasson said. “We don’t make errors and we win 11-0. We make three errors and give up seven runs, all of them unearned. When we play cleanly, we can beat any team in the region. When we don’t, we struggle.”
In the bottom of the fourth, Lindsay’s RBI groundout gave IVCC an 8-7 lead after four innings.
After her go-ahead hit, Lindsay came on in relief and kept Carl Sandburg off the scoreboard to allow IVCC to tack on runs.
An RBI single by Harcar in the fifth made it 9-7, and an RBI single by lead-off hitter R.J. Judd in the sixth gave the Lady Eagles a 10-7 lead entering the top of the seventh.
Just as Carl Sandburg did in the top of the sixth, the Chargers threatened.
In the seventh, they loaded the bases with one out, but — like she did in the sixth — Lindsay pitched her way into and out of trouble to seal the win and the sweep.
“Tiffany goes all out, and today she pitched really well for us,” Harcar said. “When she’s on, she’s on, and we’re really going to need her this weekend.”
The IVCC offense pounded out 18 hits, including 4-for-4 days from Judd — who scored three runs — and Harcar, who drove in three runs. Miranda Grandy finished 3-for-3 with three runs scored.
Jared Bell can be reached at 220-6938, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.