SOLON — Your move, Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union.
Since falling from sixth to seventh in Thursday’s most recent IGHSAU statewide Class 5A rankings, the Ottumwa softball team earned five wins in six games. On Saturday, the Bulldogs rallied from a early three-run deficit to hand No. 8 (3A) Solon a 6-3 win to open the second day of the Spartans home tournament before shutting out CIML Metro rival Des Moines Lincoln 6-0 behind a two-hit shutout in the pitching circle from junior Ashton Brown.
The wins left Ottumwa with a 21-3 record, the third-best overall mark in all of Class 5A, with the IGHSAU expected to release the regional tournament pairings for all five classes on Monday. The Bulldogs hope their results through the first 24 games are enough to earn a favorable draw.
After losing on the road in back-to-back regional finals, Ottumwa is hoping ultimately to be playing at Huston Field next month for a spot in the Class 5A state softball tournament. Ottumwa earned another key win on Monday, beating defending 4A state champion Des Moines Hoover 8-2 in game one and before dropping an eight-inning nightcap, 3-2, as the Huskies collected the game-winning hit with two outs after Ashton Brown was called for an illegal pitch on what appeared to be an inning-ending strikeout.
The Bulldogs (22-4, 9-3) are scheduled for a CIML Metro doubleheader at Des Moines North on Wednesday. Ottumwa players are hoping their body of work will be good enough to hear good news this week when the regional pairings are officially released.
“I was actually pretty happy seeing us only fall from sixth to seventh (on Thursday). I think it helped open everyone’s eyes that we’re not just going to stay up as one of the top ranked teams in the state. We have to work to stay there,” Ottumwa senior Morgan Greiner said. “I hope we can keep this up and, hopefully, it ends with us making a run to the state tournament.”
Kacy Nickerson bounced back after allowing a two-out double to Hilary Wilson in the opening inning against Solon. After an intentional walk to Skylar Stookey, Taylor Moore made Nickerson pay for a mistake drilling a three-run home run over the fence in left field to give the Spartans a sudden 3-0 lead.
Those three base runners would be the last to reach against Nickerson for the next four innings. The junior ace of the Ottumwa pitching staff allowed just one more hit and two more base runners over the final 6 1/3 innings, collecting her 10th win of the season.
“Solon is a really aggressive team at the plate, so my mindset going in was to keep throwing as hard as I could,” Nickerson said. “I tried that from the beginning of the game. They got a hold of it early, but my pitches just started to work as the game wore on.”
At the plate, Nickerson put Ottumwa ahead for good with a tiebreaking RBI double as the Bulldogs scored five times in the fourth against Solon. Batting at the top of the order, Nickerson led OHS with six hits in the tournament, going 4-4 in game two as Ottumwa secured a third win this season over Lincoln.
“You have to immediately shake it off when something doesn’t go your way early in a game,” Nickerson said. “All I thought after I gave up the home run to Solon was that I needed to get the next batter and the next batter after that. If I hit well, it also gives me more confidence each time I step back on to the field.
“With pitching, it’s about getting that first strike. With hitting, it’s all about getting that first hit. Each time, it just keep building from there.”
Greiner added her team-leading seventh home run, a two-run blast, that put the Bulldogs up 3-0 in the third inning against the Railsplitters. Greiner added an RBI single in the fourth, plating Nickerson who doubled three times against Lincoln while Brown allowed just one ball hit by Sailor Laughlin to touch the outfield grass striking out 10 batters on the way to earning her team-leading 11th pitching win.
“We didn’t want to drop a game that we shouldn’t have dropped coming in,” Greiner said. “You always want to win a game over a conference rival. We really want to put ourselves in the best position possible. Seeing the amount of fans that we’ve had on the road, I would think it would almost double if we were at home in the postseason. We want that advantage to help us get to our ultimate goal.”
Scott Jackson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.
Ottumwa 6, Solon 3
OHS 000 500 1 — 6 9 0
Solon 300 000 0 — 3 3 3
Ottumwa battery — Kacy Nickerson (W, 10-2) (7IP, 3H, 3R, 3ER, 4K, 2BB), Amber Shotts catching.
2B — Nickerson.
Hits — Nickerson 2-3, Josie Lemonds 1-2, Abby Bowers 1-3, Hannah Huisinga 1-3, Shotts 1-3, Kaylee Bix 1-4, Morgan Greiner 1-4, Jillian Heaton 1-4.
RBI — Heaton, Nickerson, Shotts.
Runs — Huisinga 2, Bix, Bowers, Lemonds, Carley Winn.
Solon battery — Carly Ellison (L, 3-1) (4IP, 7H, 5R, ER, 2K, BB) and Kayla West (3IP, 2H, R, 2K, BB), Skylar Stookey catching.
2B — Hilary Wilson.
HR — Taylor Moore.
Hits — Moore 1-2, Monet Barnhouse 1-3, Wilson 1-3.
RBI — Moore 3.
Runs — Moore, Stookey, Payton Sands.
Ottumwa 6, Des Moines Lincoln 0
OHS 012 201 0 — 6 10 1
DML 000 000 0 — 0 2 1
Ottumwa battery — Ashton Brown (W, 11-1) (7IP, 2H, 10K, 3BB), Zoey Jones catching.
2B — Kacy Nickerson 3, Jillian Heaton.
HR — Morgan Greiner.
Hits — Nickerson 4-4, Jones 2-3, Greiner 2-4, Josie Lemonds 1-3, Heaton 1-4.
RBI — Greiner 3, Jones, Nickerson.
Runs — Nickerson 2, Greiner, Hannah Huisinga, Jones, Carley Winn.
Lincoln battery — Grace Twelmeyer (L, 0-4) (3 2/3IP, 8H, 5R, 5ER, K, BB) and Riley Cox (3 1/3IP, 2H, R, 2K, BB), Sailor Laughlin catching.
Hits — Twelmeyer 1-1, Laughlin 1-2.