A great ‘Day’ for Valley softball:
Frosh pitches 4-hitter, goes 3 for 3 at plate as Lady Vikes end 31-year sectional drought
Next up: at No. 3 New Prairie, 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the regional
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
The Tippecanoe Valley softball team defeated Rensselaer 6-2 to win the Class 3A, Sectional 20 title at Kankakee Valley Saturday. The sectional title is the second in school history and the first since 1992. The Lady Vikings (17-6) will travel to No. 3 New Prairie for the regional at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.
WHEATFIELD — The Tippecanoe Valley softball team is battery-powered.
Because they are, they are sectional champions for the first time since 1992.
Freshman Dalynne Bussard pitched a four-hitter with nine strikeouts and also went 3 for 3 with two RBIs at the plate, and senior catcher Madi Smith homered and drove in four runs as the Lady Vikings beat Rensselaer 6-2 in the Class 3A, Sectional 20 final at Kankakee Valley’s Brian Flynn Field Saturday.
Valley improved to 17-6. They will play No. 3 New Prairie at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the regional. New Prairie beat Jimtown 10-0 in five innings Friday to win Sectional 19.
Rensselaer finished 6-19. They have never won a sectional softball title.
The vibe so loose yet the game so meaningful, one Valley infielder could be heard murmuring to another “I’m so nervous” with two outs in the seventh inning.
But the nerves turned to quiet joy when Bussard struck out Kaylee Cates on a rise ball to end the game.
Valley players dropped their gloves and had a moment of quiet prayer around the pitching rubber before accepting the trophy from Kankakee Valley athletic director John Gray and posing for photos in front of the scoreboard.
“It feels incredible,” Valley first-year coach Marc Green said. “These girls worked really hard, and I’m really proud of them. This is all about them.”
Five Valley seniors – Smith, Molly Moriarty, Corinna Stiles, Abby Bowers and Brittany Benn – got their hands on a sectional trophy after crushing Class 2A sectional losses to Whitko in the 2021 sectional final and Rochester in the 2022 sectional quarterfinals. In both cases, Valley lost to a team that it had beaten during the regular season.
Moriarty said softball is her “favorite sport by far.” She also said this should have been a sectional “three-peat.”
“I was definitely very excited,” Moriarty said. “I wasn’t nervous at that point. At that point, I was just ready to win because we went to regionals in golf, we went to semistate in basketball, and now we get to go to regionals in softball. I’m so excited because we choked the last two years in softball.”
Yet bumped up to Class 3A, they got their trophy.
“Yeah, and that’s crazy,” Benn said of ending the 31-year sectional drought. “It feels great to finally get one.”
Bowers said teammates encourage each other even when they are down, and that’s what makes them special.
“It’s crazy,” Bowers said. “I never thought we’d be able to do it, but here we are. … I would just say (we) always have good energy around each other and not bringing each other down.”
Green said team chemistry is what sets it apart.
“They really bonded together well,” Green said. “They know when the game’s on the line, and everybody steps up at different times. There’s been different people every game, and that’s what makes this team special.”
Bussard gave up hits to the first two batters of the game and then retired 16 in a row, mowing down batters with an unhittable rise ball. She gave up two more hits in the sixth inning before retiring the final four batters. After walking seven in a 10-6 win over Kankakee Valley in the semifinals on Thursday, she walked none this time and struck out nine.
Bussard admitted to being nervous against Kankakee Valley, especially in the first inning when she walked four.
“Still so nervous,” Bussard admitted when asked what she was feeling after the first two batters Saturday. “(Thursday), I was nervous the first inning, and today I was still nervous.”
Smith’s homer was a two-out, two-run shot in the bottom of the first and capped off a nine-pitch at-bat. Repeatedly fouling off pitches from Rensselaer’s Kami Davis, she crushed a liner over the left-center field fence with Bussard aboard to give Valley a 2-1 lead.
“I was just kind of looking for my pitch, trying to stay relaxed up there and trying to do my thing,” Smith, an Anderson University recruit, said. “I mean, there’s nothing to the game other than be yourself up there.”
Said Moriarty of Smith’s homer: “It was a good momentum change.”
Valley made it 3-1 in the third. Stiles led off with a bunt single, stole second and went to third on a wild pitch. Bussard walked and stole second. Moriarty then walked to load the bases.
Smith then hit a foul fly down the left field line. Instead of letting it drop foul, Cates, Rensselaer’s sophomore left fielder, made the catch, and Stiles tagged up and scored on the sacrifice fly.
The inning would end when Taylor Van Meter made a running basket catch on Benn’s fly to shallow center, saving two runs.
In the fifth, after a string of at-bats where Davis tried to pitch in on the hands of Valley batters with screwballs and inside fastballs in order to get them to hit the ball on the left side of the diamond, Bussard roped a lead-off double to the right-center field gap.
She advanced to third on Moriarty’s grounder to third.
That brought up Smith, who again sent a fly to left field. Once again, Cates elected to catch the ball instead of letting it drop foul, and once again, Smith had a sacrifice fly and Valley had a 4-1 lead.
Van Meter broke the string of 16 straight batters retired with a single that just ticked off the glove of shortstop Mackaylie Costello with one out in the sixth. She advanced to second on Davis’ grounder to Bowers at third and scored on Kylie Spencer’s RBI single to make it 4-2.
Valley scored twice in the sixth, all after the first two batters were retired. Davis walked Anna Shock, who advanced to second and then third on a pair of passed balls. Stiles then walked and stole second.
At that point, Rensselaer coach Mike Spencer elected to pitch to Bussard even though Bussard had reached in all three previous plate trips and first base was open. Bussard responded by floating a two-run single to right to make it 6-2.
“I was just trying to make contact,” Bussard said. “Just get through the ball and make contact.”
The sectional title caps off a stellar year for best friends Moriarty and Stiles. They were also a part of Valley’s regional champion girls basketball team.
“I’ve wanted this so bad because we’ve been so, so close,” Stiles said. “And in basketball, it was great, but this is also just a great feeling. … I think that’s why softball is a little bit more because we haven’t won in 31 years.”
Rensselaer’s 16-player roster consisted of eight freshmen and eight sophomores, but the youthful Lady Bombers struck first in the top of the first when Van Meter and Davis opened with back-to-back singles. Kylie Spencer grounded into a forceout at second to move Van Meter to third, and Faith Vanhouten’s sacrifice foul fly to right brought home Van Meter.
But it was another five innings before another Lady Bomber would get on base.
“Rise ball was working really well today,” Smith said of Bussard. “So was change-up and fastball. She was right on her pitches today where we needed her to be.”
One could say that Smith was there she needed to be, behind the plate in a big game. Afterwards, Green said Smith is “like an assistant coach on the field.” In fact, Green said he lets Smith call the pitches.
“She’s been huge for us all year,” Green said. “She’s been a rock behind the plate, and offensively, she’s incredible. Nothing she does surprises me because she’s such a good ballplayer.”
Valley 6, Rensselaer 2
Rensselaer 100 001 0 – 2 4 0
Valley 201 012 X – 6 7 0
WP – Dalynne Bussard (7 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 9 K)
LP – Kami Davis (6 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 5 BB, 3 K)
2B – Dalynne Bussard (TV)
HR – Madi Smith (TV)
Tippecanoe Valley’s senior softball players celebrate after receiving the sectional trophy following their 6-2 win over Rensselaer in the Class 3A, Sectional 20 final at Kankakee Valley Saturday. The team’s five seniors include catcher Madi Smith, second baseman Molly Moriarty, center fielder Corinna Stiles, third baseman Abby Bowers and left fielder Brittany Benn.