OTTUMWA — The day started out with the Ottumwa softball team focused on producing winning results against two of the top teams in the state.
By the end of the 45th Ottumwa Classic, wins and losses seemed like a secondary reason for concern. The eighth-ranked (5A) Bulldogs lost twice on Saturday at Huston Field, falling 6-1 to top-ranked (3A) Davenport Assumption and 4-3 to No. 7 (5A) Johnston.
Perhaps more importantly, the Bulldogs lost their team leader. Morgan Greiner, the unquestioned captain on and off the field of the 2019 Ottumwa softball team, suffered a torn meniscus and ACL in her right knee trying to avoid being doubled off first base during the third inning against Johnston, collapsing in visible pain before being helped off the field.
“That really took us down,” said Ottumwa junior Ashton Brown, who started and pitched all seven innings for the Bulldogs against the Dragons. “I think that’s part of the reason why Johnston scored that inning. We were all just a little bit in shock. Morgan doesn’t cry and as soon as she started crying, we knew that’s not good.
“It’s going be a tough season if she’s gone.”
Greiner watched the remainder of Saturday’s Ottumwa Classic finale from the stands before leaving Huston Field on crutches. Greiner came out to support her friend, and travel softball teammate, Zoey Wright on Monday night walking with the help of crutches at the Pekin softball diamond following a 3-0 regional tournament win for the Panthers.
“I was hoping it was just a meniscus tear. You can play through that,” Greiner said on Monday. “Hopefully, I can be back and fully healthy by next spring (for her freshman year at Indian Hills).”
Ottumwa players were able to eventually shake off seeing their beloved teammate suffer an injury, erasing a 3-1 deficit against Johnston as Zoey Jones and Josie Lemonds both connected on RBI hits in the fourth inning to tie the score. The game remained tied until the seventh, when Johnston lead-off hitter Sophie Maras roped a single to complete the cycle after homering, tripling and doubling earlier in the game.
After moving to second on a throwing error and making it to third on a sacrifice bunt, OHS head coach Frank Huston elected to intentionally walk the bases loaded in order to record a force out at home. Instead, Carley Shepherd delivered the winning blow for the Dragons (28-8) with a sacrifice fly to center that allowed Maras to score the winning run.
Ottumwa will have plenty of chances to play this week without Greiner in the lineup should the senior be forced to the sidelines. After the injury, Lemonds moved from designated player to third base while Amber Shotts, the normal opening game catcher for Bulldog ace pitcher Kacy Nickerson, stepped in to Greiner’s second spot in the OHS batting lineup.
Ottumwa heads to Des Moines Roosevelt for a make-up CIML Metro conference doubleheader Tuesday at 4:15 p.m. The Bulldogs also host Des Moines East in a game that could be for the conference title and a game that could give the Bulldogs a true test in terms of playing a top opponent without Greiner, who hit her team-leading 10th home run on Saturday against Johnston.
“You plan not to have her and hope that you could end up having her in the lineup,” Huston said on Saturday. “Josie has been practicing all year as a utility player, so she can step in defensively for us wherever we need her. We just need to work a little harder with her on playing third base. We’ll also have to figure out what exactly we want to do with the batting line-up moving forward.”
Greiner did not rule out making an emergency appearance at the plate. The senior does plan to travel with the team to Roosevelt today and will be with the team throughout the remainder of the season, even if she cannot participate on the field, keeping up an important role as a vocal team leader for a Bulldog softball team striving to become the program’s 28th state softball tournament qualifier.
“It was really sad to see Morgan go down, especially this late in her senior year,” Nickerson, who has played several years with Greiner both in high school and youth softball. “She definitely is a key player, but we can still definitely make it to state. We just really need to bear down and continue to play our game.
“We proved against Johnston that we can bring the right mindset to the diamond. It’s all about moving forward to the next play. We can all do that. We can all play as a team and continue to do well.”
Both Johnston and Assumption (33-2) joined Southeast Polk and Pleasantville as the only four teams in the 45th Ottumwa Classic to go 2-0 after both the Dragons and Knights beat Cedar Rapids Jefferson (16-19) earlier in the day. The Knights hammered out 18 hits in a 12-4 win over Jefferson before adding 11 hits off Nickerson in a win over Ottumwa while Johnston allowed just four hits to the J-Hawks earlier on Saturday in a 10-0 win.
Pleasantville, ranked third in Class 2A, recorded a pair of shutouts Saturday at the Ottumwa Classic winning 8-0 over Keokuk and 10-0 over Roland-Story to improve to 26-10 on the season. Roland-Story (10-15) earned a split with a 2-0 over Keokuk (3-28) in a battle of former Ottumwa softball standouts turned head coaches as Amber Doyle earned the win in her first match-up with first-year Chiefs head coach Mandi Moore.