OTTUMWA — Mother Nature tried to rain on Ottumwa softball's Senior Night parade.
Instead, a sudden shower may have provided head coach Frank Huston with exactly what he wanted at the start of the season. Instead of an entire week off, the eighth-ranked (5A) Bulldogs are now looking at three must-win CIML Metro conference games in the days leading up to their Class 5A regional tournament opener on July 13.
Ottumwa rallied with five runs in the fifth inning to beat visiting Des Moines East, 7-2, in what was supposed to be the first of two important games on Wednesday between the top two teams in the Metro standings. Instead, the Bulldogs had to hustle through ceremonies to honor seniors Sydney Schlarbaum, Abby Bowers and Morgan Greiner as threatening weather moved over Huston Field.
All three seniors shared hugs with the teammates and family members before hustling back into the dugout as wind gusts began to pick up. Rain began to fall minutes later, eventually leading to the announcement that the second game had been postponed with a tentative make-up date of Thursday, July 11.
"When you looked at our original schedule this year, we had that gap in there before opening the postseason," Huston said. "Now, with the doubleheader we're going to make up at Roosevelt next Tuesday and this game with East being moved back to next week, that works out perfectly for us. We've been playing that type of schedule all year. We don't want to sit. From that standpoint, the rain is not bad."
Greiner, Bowers and Schlarbaum have been on the other side of the last four Senior Nights, honoring various Ottumwa softball teammates by decorating Huston Field with streamers and posting the numbers of each senior on the fence near Ottumwa's batting cage. This year, all three seniors simply had to show up and be honored by their teammates who have been a part of a special 28-4 season so far with the Bulldogs spending every day ranked among the top 10 in Class 5A.
That didn't make the night any easier for the Class of 2019 Ottumwa softball seniors.
"It was a little more stressful this year," Greiner said. "We didn't really have to do too much in years past, but this year we had to make sure that everything was going to be okay. You have to make sure that everything is done and that your parents are going to be on time for the ceremonies.
"And, you have to come out and play well, especially against a team like East."
The Scarlets led most of the night, scoring the first run as OHS junior pitcher Kacy Nickerson struggled with her command early. Keiana Giboo drilled an RBI single to score Alexis Brown after Nickerson issued consecutive one-out walks, including six straight pitches that were out of the strike zone with the players in the East dugout reminding the Bulldog ace with chants of "six in a row."
"I try not to focus on what they say, but of course you can hear it," Nickerson said. "You just can't let it get to you."
Nickerson would start another string after allowing the RBI hit to Giboo, retiring five straight Scarlet batters. Hannah Huisinga's solo home run in the second inning briefly tied the game at 1-1 before Josie Lucas reached on an error and came around to score the go-ahead run.
That run would be the last one scored by the Scarlets, thanks in large part to a defensive gem turned in by Schlarbaum. Banner blasted a deep fly ball to left that nearly got over the Ottumwa senior's head, but Schlarbaum snared the ball on the dead run limiting the Scarlet starting pitcher to a deep sacrifice fly.
"I just kind of threw my glove up and hoped for the best," Schlarbaum said. "I could feel the fence coming up. I wasn't sure I could catch it, but I could hear Greg (Greiner, Morgan's dad) and Jillian's dad both tell me I could get it, so I made a run for it.
"I thought for sure when I took off that ball was over my head. I was afraid it was gone."
Instead, it would be the second of 14 straight outs recorded by Nickerson and the Bulldog defense. While East limited to protecting a slim 2-1 lead, Bowers became the second senior to come up big in the victory leading off Ottumwa's five-run fifth inning with her second straight hit off Banner.
"I knew I had to get something started. We really needed some runs," Bowers said. "Sometimes, we have a hard time getting our bats going right away. Once we do, it's hard to stop us."
Before Greiner could get her chance to contribute to the big inning, sophomore Josie Lemonds produced a huge blow to the Scarlets. Down two strikes against Banner, Lemonds hung in and eventually delivered a line-drive double over Giboo's head in center, allowing Bowers and Anne Guest to score for the Bulldogs giving OHS a 3-2 lead.
"I was going up without a lot of confidence after my last at-bat (a third-inning strikeout). I just thought to myself that I was going to hit the ball," Lemonds said. "Morgan has given me the most confidence. She believes in me and tells me everything I need to know."
Greiner was on deck with Nickerson drove in two more runs with a home run blast over the left field fence, giving Ottumwa a 5-2 lead. Greiner followed with her team-leading ninth home run, giving all three seniors a moment to remember from Wednesday night's win.
"This isn't just about winning a conference title. It's about making sure we have the top seed in the regional tournament," Greiner said. "There's a lot we're still playing for. These games are great stepping stones to get us ready for the postseason."
Ottumwa now has at least six more home games to play with a possible seventh should the Bulldogs make it to the regional final as the highest ranked team in the matchup. Weather permitting, the Bulldogs host two thrilling days of the Ottumwa Classic with games against Centerville and Fairfield on Friday as well as Davenport Assumption and Johnston on Saturday.
With storms moving in on Wednesday, there wasn't much time to reflect on being honored as seniors for Greiner, Bowers and Schlarbaum. That will certainly come later as the seniors look to cap their careers by guiding Ottumwa back to the state softball tournament.
"It hasn't really hit me yet, but I'll definitely cry at some point for sure," Bowers said. "It's bittersweet knowing this is one of the last home games I'll get to play in an Ottumwa uniform."
No. 8 (5A) Ottumwa 7, No. 12 (5A) Des Moines East 2
East 101 000 0 — 2 2 0
OHS 010 051 x — 7 8 1
Des Moines East battery — C.J. Banner (L, 11-8) (6IP, 8H, 7R, 7ER, 3K, HBP), Marisa Anderson catching.
Hits — Alysha Claude 1-3, Keiana Giboo 1-3.
RBI — Banner, Giboo.
Runs — Alexis Brown, Josie Lucas.
Ottumwa battery — Kacy Nickerson (W, 13-2) (7IP, 2H, 2R, ER, 11K, 2BB), Amber Shotts catching.
2B — Josie Lemonds.
HR — Morgan Greiner, Hannah Huisinga, Nickerson.
Hits — Abby Bowers 2-3, Zoey Jones 1-2, Shotts 1-2, Greiner 1-3, Huisinga 1-3, Lemonds 1-3, Nickerson 1-3.
RBI — Lemonds 2, Nickerson 2, Greiner, Huisinga, Shotts.
Runs — Bowers, Greiner, Anne Guest, Huisinga, Jones, Nickerson, Sydney Schlarbaum.