ALBIA — There’s no doubt about it. The Albia Lady Dees have their swagger back.
The eighth-ranked team in Class 3A continued to tear the cover off the softball against South Central Conference rivals, scoring at least 11 runs for the fourth consecutive conference game. Alex Beard and Jena Lawrence each collected three hits and help set up pinch-hitter Lauren Bayer for the final blow, a two-run double in the bottom of the fifth, that clinched an 11-1 win over visiting Davis County on Thursday at the Monroe County Sports Complex.
The win was the eighth straight overall for Albia. The Lady Dees maintained their place atop the SCC standings, scoring a sixth straight conference win to stay on pace with Clarke with just one conference loss.
“We really focused this weekend at Lynnville-Sully’s tournament on certain pitches. I think that’s helped us take a better approach at the plate,” said Beard. “I think we’re working better as a team. I think that’s going to help us go far this year.”
Albia entered this season with high expectations, having made it to the Class 3A state tournament semifinals each of the past two years. It hasn’t been easy at the start for the Lady Dees, losing in walk-off fashion to SCC rival Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont and Class 4A semifinalist Newton as well as suffering an 11-1 setback to Williamsburg - the team Albia beat for a regional championship last summer.
Things have changed over the past two weeks for Albia, especially at the plate. The Lady Dees have outscored their opponents 83-30 during their eight-game winning streak.
“We’re hitting the heck out of the ball right now,” Albia co-head coach Darren Hill said. “You lose track of how many games in a row you have this sort of production, but we’re even making outs tough to field with how hard we’re hitting the ball. That’s all you ask for. You step up to the plate, take some hacks and give yourself a chance to reach. Right now, we’re hacking it pretty well.”
Davis County came to Albia showing no fear of after losing 19-4 to the Lady Dees in Bloomfield one week earlier. Sophia Young continued her own incredible stretch at the plate with a lead-off triple before coming home to score on an RBI single by Ashton Madden to put the Mustangs up 1-0.
Albia responded quickly, collecting four straight hits off Morgan Petefish. Lawrence gave Albia the lead back with a two-run single as the Lady Dees batted around in each of the first two innings, building a 7-1 lead after two.
“We struggled at the beginning of the season, but we did a line-up change before the Davis County game last week,” Beard said. “Kennedy Schroeder moved up from fourth in the lineup to the lead-off spot. I think that really works out well for us. It helps that we’re hitting the ball as well as we are.”
Beard had just one extra-base hit on Thursday, an RBI double in the second. Overall this season, Beard is in the midst of a very special year currently fifth in the state with a 1.204 slugging percentage and sixth in the state overall with seven home runs.
The junior catcher has saved some of her best games for some of Albia’s biggest over the past week. After collecting four hits and driving in five runs in a 17-8 win over Clarke last Friday to put the Lady Dees in the SCC lead, Beard added five more RBI including a grand slam as Albia avenged their earlier 2-1 loss to EBF on Monday with an 11-3 win over the Rockets.
“I struck out twice in that first game EBF. I don’t like to strike out at all, so that game told me that I had to get back in that batting cage and work even harder,” Beard said. “I go out with my dad every day before a game and hit at least three buckets of softballs. I know I have something to work for. I don’t want to lose that carrot in front of me.”
Lawrence allowed just five hits to the Mustangs, improving to 9-4 in the pitching circle with four strikeouts on Thursday. Like Beard, Lawrence is continuing to work at being at her best as the Lady Dees seek a third straight trip to the state softball tournament.
“That loss to Newton at Oskaloosa was not my best effort. It kind of got me down,” Lawrence said. “It’s kind of been up and down at times this year, but I’m starting to level it up. I’ve been all over place at times, so I’ve worked on basic fundamentals. It’s something I kind of got away from, so I try to focus and practice at getting better on the basics.”
Davis County (5-9, 1-6 SCC) nearly helped Albia’s SCC championship cause on Wednesday, falling just short of upsetting the Clarke Indians on the road. The Mustangs scored three times in the fourth inning to take a brief 6-5 lead before Clarke answered with three runs in the bottom of the fourth and held on for a wild 10-7 victory, keeping pace with just one loss (to Albia last Friday) in conference play.
Shelby Motykowski, Sophia Young and Sydney Henderson each had two-hit efforts against Clarke while Ashton Madden doubled and drove in four runs. Head coach Zach Dunlavy talked about the effort given by his squad facing the top two teams in the SCC on the road on back-to-back nights.
No. 8 (3A) Albia (14-3, 7-1) returns to the Lacey Recreational Sports Complex for the second time this season, competing in the Oskaloosa Indian Classic on Saturday. The Lady Dees will face Van Meter and Sigourney.
Davis County, meanwhile, heads to the Wapello Tournament on Saturday.