By ANDY HEINTZ Courier sportswriter @heintz23
---- — OTTUMWA – The Ottumwa High softball team picked up a thrilling 5-4 victory over Iowa City West Tuesday at Huston Field in the Class 5A, Region 7 final Tuesday.
“First of all, it was a great, great win,” Ottumwa coach Frank Huston said. “We’ve got a senior-laden team that has played in two state tournaments already so they are very battle-tested in pressure situations.”
It was an exciting, heart-pounding game from start to finish that once again illuminated the Bulldogs never-give-up attitude. Interestingly, the two biggest hits of the night for Ottumwa’s senior-laden team came from some of its younger players — Kassidi Henderson and Alexis Winn.
Ottumwa trailed 3-2 in the top of the sixth and a palpable feeling of unease had permeated through Huston Field like an unwanted guest at a party. Ottumwa’s offense had fallen into a malaise after a hot start and a resurgent West had captured the momentum after ripping off three runs in the bottom of the fourth. With their chances dwindling with every missed opportunity, the Bulldogs had to find some kind of elixir, and fast, if they wanted to keep their state championship hopes alive. Fortunately, the Bulldogs would do precisely that.
Winn, who had been in a slump as of late, led off the inning with a single. Then Beth Overturf advanced Ashlyn Thompson, who was pinch running for Winn, to second with a sacrifice bunt. Two batters later, in a key at bat, Sydney Strunk delivered a two-out single to the left side of the infield. Moments later, Henderson who, unlike the majority of Ottumwa’s starters had never played in a regional final before, belted a double to a gap in right centerfield that scored Thompson and Strunk and gave the Bulldogs a 4-3 lead.
“I was feeling really pumped up knowing that we could pull through,” Henderson said. “We just had to play together to get this win. It felt really good.”
Standing on the third base line, veteran coach Huston gave a celebratory double fist pump after the hit.
Later, In the top of the sixth, Winn gave her team an insurance run when she absolutely crushed a double off West pitcher Jessie Harder that hit the left field fence on a hop and drove in Roark to extend the Bulldog lead to 5-3.
“I just felt relieved because I was out of my slump and just relaxed and hit it,” Winn said.
The Women of Troy, however, showed they still had plenty of fight left in them in the bottom half of the seventh. Michaela Recker led off the inning with a single for West. The Women of Troy’s momentum was briefly tempered when the next two batters grounded out to first baseman Nicole Peyton, leaving the Bulldogs one out away from a trip to state. But getting that final out would be anything but easy.
West’s next batter, Madi Miller, cranked a double to centerfield that drove in Recker and narrowed the gap to 5-4. Next, Adaria Opiola drew a walk on a full-count pitch. With Opiola representing the winning run on first base, Lauren Larson hit a grounder to Roark at second that she fielded and fired to first for the final out of the game.
The Bulldog offense got off to a fast start in the top of the first as Sammy Garrett, Roark and Katie Sammons got things rolling with three-consecutive singles. The three hits combined with a West infield error and an RBI ground out by Beth Overturf helped give the Bulldogs a 2-0 lead. But the Women Troy struck back in the top of the fourth. Grace Tafolla drew a walk to start the inning. Then Madi Miller reached first base after Roark dropped a shallow fly ball at second. Two batters later, Lauren Larson slapped an infield single, loading the bases for Taylor Libby. The Women of Troy slugger proceeded to crack a two-run double to right centerfield. West managed to tack on one more run before the inning came to an end.
With the win, the Bulldogs further cemented their reputation as a team that thrives when faced with adversity.
“It gives us extra confidence knowing that no matter how far behind we can always pull through as a team,” Henderson said.
“We have such a high level of confidence right now,” Winn added. “We are just ready to go to state and do the best we can.”
Mandi Moore picked up the win on the hill for the Bulldogs. She allowed four runs, only two of them earned, on six hits while striking out six and issuing three walks.
With the win, the Bulldogs advanced to the state tournament for the 27th time in the program’s esteemed history. They will take on Cedar Rapids Jefferson at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Fort Dodge in the first round of the Class 5A State Tournament at Harlan Rogers Park.
Ottumwa 5, Iowa City West 4
Ottu 200 002 1 — 5 7 1
West 000 300 1 — 4 6 1
Iowa City West battery — Jessie Harder (W, 12-11) (7IP, 7H, 5R, 4ER, 1K, 1BB), Michaela Recker catching.
2B — Taylor Libby, Madi Miller.
Hits — Lauren Larson 1-for-4, Madi Miller 2-4, Taylor Libby 1-for-3, Recker 1-for-3, Morgan Ryan 1-for-3.
RBI — Libby 2, Erin Kallsen, Miller.
Runs — Grace Tafola, Michaela Just, Larson.
Ottumwa battery — Mandi Moore (W, 19-5) (7IP, 6H, 4R, 2ER, 6K, 3BB), Beth Overturf catching.
2B — Kassidi Henderson, Alexis Winn.
Hits — Sammy Garrett 1-for-4, Olivia Roark 1-for-4, Katie Sammons 1-for-4, Chelsea Griffiths 1-for-3, Winn 2-for-4, Sydney Strunk 1-for-3.
RBI — Henderson 2, Winn, Overturf.
Runs — Garrett, Roark 2, Ashlyn Thompson, Strunk.