ANDERSON — The Riverfield All-Stars took matters into their own hands Monday, and as a result the team will get a chance to defend its Little League Softball state title today in Lebanon.
A dominant 8-1 victory against New Albany pushed Riverfield to 3-1 in pool play and into the No. 3 seed in the state semifinals.
Riverfield will play South Bend Southeast today at 2 p.m. with the championship game scheduled for 5 p.m. Top-seeded Lebanon meets Zionsville in the other semifinal.
Riverfield entered the day with the knowledge that even a victory might not be enough to keep its postseason run alive. The team also needed to win a three-team tiebreaker for the final two semifinal spots based on runs allowed per innings played.
A dominant pitching performance by Shelby Wright took care of both problems and set Riverfield up nicely for today's potential doubleheader.
Little League rules allow a pitcher to throw just two innings without needing a full day of rest between outings. Monday was Wright's first appearance in the state tournament, and her gem allows Riverfield to keep its full complement of regular pitchers available today.
"To be able to bring her in, and for her to shut the game down, was huge," Riverfield coach Seth Kelley said.
Riverfield enters the semifinals on a serious tear. The team has won three straight games by a combined score of 35-4. It's only loss of the tournament came in the opening game with a 9-7 decision against South Bend Southeast.
The chance to avenge that defeat is appealing.
"I'm looking forward to it," Kelley said. "They're a good, quality ballclub, and they're going to bring their 'A' game. But I feel like we came out a little bit flat the last time, and we weren't the team they'd usually see."
Despite the eight-run total, Riverfield's bats weren't as thunderous Monday as they had been in the previous victories. Instead, a strong defense gave the hitters time to solve New Albany's hurler.
"Our pitching and defense were outstanding," Kelley said. "I've been telling them defense wins games, and it really came through for us."
Kelley was happy not to be forced into managing the scoreboard as much as the game. Before Riverfield's game began, the team found out it had a bigger lead in runs allowed than it expected.
Wright and the defense quickly made it a moot point anyway.
The team is ecstatic to be able to determine its fate on the field today. Kelley said losing a chance to repeat as state champs on a tiebreaker would have been "terribly disappointing."
Instead of going home empty-handed, the team finds itself just two wins away from another trip to the Central Regional in Indianapolis.
And Kelley likes his chances.
"Being as deep as we are in the pitching slot and having the defense we have," he said, "I think we have a good chance of winning this thing."