The Providence softball team kicked off the postseason by showcasing its offense firepower, outscoring its first three opponents by a combined total of 31-1 and wrapping up two of the games in five innings with the 10-run rule en route to a sectional title.
Although becoming a regional champion was going to require something much different, the result was very much the same.
The Pioneers used a combination of dominant pitching and stingy defense to outlast the host Rebels 3-1 in the Class 2A regional Wednesday at Southwestern. Providence pitchers Sierra Collett and Riley Lovan combined for a two-hitter and kept the Rebels in check nearly the whole way.
That doesn’t mean the Pioneer offense didn’t get to show off a little.
Providence shortstop Jacquie Horning continued a red-hot postseason with her second home run in as many games, and the sophomore star also scored after a double and an RBI single by Lillian Hughes, giving the Pioneers more than enough runs to claim their second straight regional title.
“We knew going in that we would have to execute on the little things and get timely hits to win,” said Providence coach Sean Payne. “We played them just a couple of weeks ago, so we knew it was going to be this kind of game.”
Payne was referring to his team’s 4-3 win over the Rebels on their Senior Night. In that contest, the Pioneers had to rally in their final at-bat to claim the victory.
It was a scenario that Providence was in no mood to repeat.
Catcher Jordyn Stengel made sure of that, hitting a single off Southwestern ace Kelsi Brierly — a freshman playing in her first regional — in the top of the first inning. Hornung collected the first of her three hits immediately after to move Stengel to third, and she scored on a wild pitch from Brierly moments later.
Staked to a one-run lead, Collett dominated Southwestern through the opening frames, allowing just one baserunner in the first two Rebel at-bats. Little did she know, her lead was about to double.
Hornung, who has hit safely in all four of Providence’s postseason games and crushed a three-run homer and had four RBIs in the sectional title game against Eastern, made it 2-0 with one swing of the bat, crushing a ball over the fence in right field. It was her eighth of the season and made it 16 on the season for Providence, extending a team record.
“I’m usually looking for base hits, because if you get on and give your teammates a chance to get something going, that’s usually as good as a home run,” said Horning, who has a hit in six of her last seven times up after going 3-of-4 on Wednesday. “That at-bat was really long and I kept fouling them off. Finally, I thought she was going to throw a changeup and I stayed with it and waited and it paid off.”
Collett continued to do her part, striking out the first two hitters she faced in both the fourth and fifth innings, until Payne decided to end the senior’s evening. Collett is still on a closely-watched pitch count after missing the second half of last season with a back injury, which she has struggled with throughout this season as well. She went 4 2/3 innings, surrendering just one hit and one walk with seven strikeouts.
Paybe gave the ball to Riley Lovan and the sophomore didn’t disappoint. She pitched the remaining 2 1/3 innings, giving up just one hit and striking out two.
Southwestern did manage to make things a little more interesting, aided by a rare lapse in the Pioneer defense.
With one out, Brierly reached first on a Providence error, as did Josie Barnett, who laid down a bunt to move Brierly over, but ended up safe at first after a miscue on the throw. After Brittany Ralston struck out, Stengel tried to throw out Barnett at second, but the ball sailed into centerfield, allowing Brierly to score Southwestern’s lone run and put Barnett at third. Lovan escaped the jam by getting Kaitlyn Conover to foul out to Stengel.
Hornung made sure that Lovan had a little more insurance heading into the Rebels’ last at-bat, belting a two-out double and then scoring on the single from Hughes in the Providence half of the seventh. Southwestern briefly made things interesting when lead-off hitter Karli Long lofted a single that dropped between two Pioneers just beyond the infield, but Lovan never allowed another hit and sent Providence off to the semistate in style — just a little different style than they had been used to.
“I think we did a really good job to answer right back after [Southwestern] scored,” Payne said. “These are very driven and determined girls. They had to be mentally tough to win this won, and we knew that coming in.”
Providence will meet South Spencer in Saturday’s Class 2A Forest Park Semistate semifinal. The Pioneers have now won three consecutive sectionals and back-to-back regionals. Last year’s visit to semistate ended with a 6-0 loss to Evansville Mater Dei, a team South Spencer beat in the sectional round this season.
“I think this puts us, especially in this area, among the elite programs,” Payne said. “When I took over, I was told I would never win a sectional at Providence, was told that we would never win anything and I know that’s driven me. And these girls have seen that and taken that attitude as well.”
It’s a sentiment that Hornung agreed with.
“We got very good pitching and we’ve shown what our hitting can do,” Hornung said. “I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of this team.”
CLASS 2A SOUTHWESTERN REGIONAL
PROVIDENCE 3, SOUTHWESTERN 1
Providence 101 000 1—3 9 3
Southwestern 000 001 0—1 2 1
W — Sierra Collett. L — Kelsi Brierly. 2B — Jacquie Hornung (P). HR — Hornung (P).
Records — Providence 20-12, Southwestern 20-10.