The signs of a good softball team go beyond hitting, pitching and defense, though the Ottumwa High School softball team exhibits all those traits.
Another sign in not playing down to the competition.
The sixth-ranked (Class 5A) Bulldogs struggled did just enough to eke out a tough win in the first game, then turned it on offensively in the second for a 4-0 and 12-2 sweep of Marshalltown in a CIML crossover doubleheader Thursday at Huston Field. The second game went five innings.
"We've got a veteran ball club, and they've all been through (the schedule we play)," Ottumwa coach Frank Huston said. "We knew it wasn't going to be quite as easy as it was Wednesday."
The Bulldogs (14-2) stranded 12 runners on base in the first game and scored three unearned runs. The offense hit the ball hard, but Kacy Nickerson overwhelmed the Bobcats in throwing a no-hitter. She struck out 13, and the only runner to reach was on a hit-by-pitch in the first inning.
It was the third straight start Nickerson has allowed no hits; the other two outings were shortened because of the run rule, but this one went the distance. At one point, she struck out seven consecutive hitters, and only one ball left the infield.
"She stepped it up again," Huston said. "But that's just what we've come to expect from her."
Morgan Greiner had the only RBI in the first game, a double that scored Nickerson. Ottumwa made it 2-0 in the second when courtesy runner Madelyn Houk scored on an error, and then two more runs came across in the sixth on another error.
"We really hit the ball hard in the first game, but the one thing we were doing was swinging at high pitches and grounding out," Huston said. "We tried to adjust and make them bring the ball down."
Marshalltown finally broke through with its first hit and run in the first inning of the second game, as Madison Finch doubled in Erica Johnson to put the Bobcats (4-12) up early. However, that was answered in the bottom of the inning, with Hannah Huisinga doubling in a pair of runs to make it 3-1.
Gradually the Bulldogs added on, culminating with a four-run fourth to break the game open. Kaylee Bix singled in a pair of runs, then Bix and Huisinga stroked back-to-back RBI singles during a three-run fifth to end the game.
Ashton Brown allowed four hits and one earned run over five innings to improve to 8-0 this season.
The Bulldogs continue to have several hitters in the lineup that are hot. Nickerson had three doubles in the doubleheader, and Bix and Huisinga drove in four runs apiece in the second game.
"You always wish you had all nine hitters on at the same time," Huston said. "But with hitting, if you can get hot, you can stay hot."
This was the third straight doubleheader against a struggling opponent, yet the Bulldogs continue to take care of business and move up the rankings.
"I think the rankings are a source of pride for the girls, but the most important ones are right before the pairings come out," Huston said. "The ranking puts a target on our back."
Chad Drury can be reached at email@example.com, and on Twitter @ChadDrury