Lemonds leads Ottumwa past Centennial in nightcap

Ottumwa sophomore Josie Lemonds takes off her helmet after hitting a tiebreaking three-run home run during the second game of a varsity high school softball doubleheader against Ankeny Centennial on Thursday night at Frank Huston Field in Ottumwa.

OTTUMWA — Any win during the course of a softball season is great.

There are some wins, however, that make more of a statement than others.

After waiting two days for showers and thunderstorms to clear out of southern Iowa, the eighth-ranked Bulldogs stormed past Ankeny Centennial, twice, to sweep a varsity doubleheader. Ottumwa scored four runs in each of the first two innings of a 10-1 win in game one, then got a clutch three-run homer run from Josie Lemonds to complete the sweep with a 7-6 victory in game two.

The second straight doubleheader sweep of the season gives Ottumwa four victories against four Class 5A opponents. Having moved up from 10th to eighth in the latest Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union rankings, the Bulldogs are on an early pace to put themselves in the best position possible to chase down a ticket to the Iowa High School State Softball Tournament.

"I guess there's lot of ways to win and I told the girls there are a lot of ways that we can win ballgames this year," Ottumwa head softball coach Frank Huston said. "The bats saved us. We're always happy when we win. We had some clutch hits and, as a coach, you can't complain about that.

"We didn't make some play defensively. Part of it was speed by Ankeny Centennial, but part of it was miscommunication by us. That can't happen."

The Bulldogs appeared on the way to stress-free completion of the CIML crossover sweep. Kaylee Bix had a pair of clutch two-out run-scoring hits, including a two-run homer to right in the third inning, as Ottumwa opened a 4-1 lead in the nightcap.

Ankeny Centennial, however, did not go away quietly. Cassie Severson's lead off double was followed by three straight Jaguar bunts, bringing home Severson while putting the tying run in scoring position.

Lily King cut Ottumwa's lead to 4-3 with an RBI double. Back-to-back walks by Franie Burnett and Ella Schulz pushed across the tying run before OHS game-two starting pitcher Ashton Brown struck out Kennedee Jones and forced Taylor Runchey into a groundout to end the threat.

Bix got Ottumwa's winning rally started, coaxing a walk with one out. Hannah Huisinga was hit by a pitch from Jaguar relief hurler Madi Huisman before Lemonds teed off on a two-out pitch that nearly cleared every fence in left-center field, nearly landing in a neighborhood back yard.

"As a team, we're swinging the bats really well here at the start of the season," Huston said. "We really seem to be hitting the long ball and we're getting clutch hits from a lot of people."

Centennial (2-2) made one last run at stealing game two, collecting four straight hits with two outs in the seventh including an RBI single by Jones and a third-straight double by Severson to put the tying run at third and go-ahead run at second. Brown again responded, striking out Carleigh King swinging on a 3-2 pitch to complete the sweep. 

"Ashton really bailed us out a couple of times," Huston said. "That was a huge strikeout. We didn't want to have to make another play in the field."

Jillian Heaton provided the Bulldogs with a big blast early in game one, driving in two of Ottumwa's first four runs with a first-inning home run. Morgan Greiner added three hits, including a double, and drove in two runs of her own while scoring twice in support of starting pitcher Kacy Nickerson, who struck out 10 batters in a complete game victory.

Ottumwa (4-0) will head to the Oskaloosa Classic on Saturday, facing Iowa City Liberty and Pella at the Lacey Recreational Sports Complex. The Bulldogs open CIML Metro conference play on Monday at home, hosting defending Class 4A state champion Des Moines Hoover in am early-season battle of two top-10 5A teams.

"We're undefeated and we've won in different ways each time out," Huston said. "We've got two good games coming up Saturday, Hoover on Monday and a trip to Indianola on Thursday. Those are the type of games that prepare you for the postseason. We'll be ready."

Scott Jackson can be reached at sjackson@ottumwacourier.com. Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.