INDEPENDENCE, Kansas — The Cloud County Community College softball team concluded its season-long eight-game road swing on Thursday in grand fashion, earning a pair of shutout victories — 9-0 and 8-0, respectively — over Independence Community College.
With the sweep of the Pirates (3-53 overall, 2-24 Region VI), the T-Birds (16-18 overal, 9-11 Region VI ) have now won four straight games, six out of their last eight, and sit eighth in the Region VI Division II standings with four region games remaining in the regular season.
"We're starting to gel together, play much better defense, getting great starts from our pitching, and the bats are getting hot now," said Cloud County head coach, Aaron Acree. "It's a mixture for success. We've raised the bar and raised our level of play."
Cloud County used two big innings, offensively, and a dominating start from sophomore Jordan Ummel to sink the Pirates in Game One.
Ummel moved to 8-2 on the season, and recorded her fourth shutout, after going all six innings, scattering five hits and striking out five.
The right-hander was staked to a 4-0 lead before entering the pitcher's circle as Cloud County jumped all over Independence starter, Makayla Harp.
Sophomore shortstop Nicole Dinkel was at the center of the scoring as she smashed a bases-clearing, three-run triple with one out in the top of the first inning, then scored the fourth run on a passed ball.
Dinkel finished 2-for-2 with two runs scored and four RBI in Game One. She and fellow sophomore Alyssa Corpus, who was 2-for-4 in Game One and 4-for-6 on the afternoon, provided the muscle for a Cloud County lineup starting to hit its stride.
"She's staying down through the ball now instead of pulling off of it," Acree said of Dinkel's recent surge. "She's hitting everything to center field and right-center. And another girl who is really hitting the ball hard right now is Alyssa Corpus. She came through with a couple great at-bats (Thursday) as well."
Cloud County, which punished Independence for its 10 walks and two errors in Game One, put the game away in the top of the sixth inning with a five-spot. Dinkel and Corpus each delivered RBI singles in the inning.
As for Game Two, it was freshman Madison Hammond who shined in the pitching circle as she recorded her second shutout of the season — first inside KJCCC East play — with five strong innings of work.
The right-hander limiting Independence to five hits and walked just one; a common theme for the T-Birds during their four-game winning streak as they have allowed just five runs and issued six free passes over the last 25 innings.
"We're not walking people and we've had a lot of success getting the leadoff hitter out each inning," said Acree of his pitching staff. "Our defense is also playing very well behind them."
Cloud County turned two double-plays in Game Two, including a rare 5-2-6 double-play turned by freshman third baseman Payton Gillen, sophomore catcher Kayla West and Dinkel at shortstop to escape a bases loaded threat in the fifth inning.
Gillen added two hits atop the batting order in Game Two as well, while Corpus was 2-for-2 and sophomore outfielder Autumn Adams finished 2-for-3 with two runs scored and two driven in.
The T-Birds will look to build off Thursday's momentum when they cap a busy week with a pair of games against Neosho County on Friday (2 p.m. and 4 p.m.), and Sophomore Day on Saturday against Allen County (1 p.m. and 3 p.m.).
In addition to the Sophomore Day ceremony on Saturday, Cloud County will be recognizing Kathleen (Apolzer) Powers, who was inducted into the Cloud County Athletics Hall of Fame back on Feb. 17.