FORT DODGE — The Ottumwa softball team checked out the sights and sounds of the state tournament on Monday.
Simply observing, however, still cannot compare to being on center stage. That’s exactly where the Bulldogs found themselves on Tuesday sharing the spotlight on the main diamond at Harlan Rogers Park with the top-ranked team in Class 5A.
While Ottumwa had their moments, Waukee stole the show. Five runs on six hits in the second inning set the tone for the Warriors in an 8-0 state quarterfinal win over the ninth-ranked Bulldogs, moving the CIML Iowa champions within two wins of a state softball championship.
Ottumwa, meanwhile, will wrap up the 2019 season with the same opponent that ended the 2018 Bulldog softball campaign. Indianola, who split a doubleheader with OHS earlier this year and beat Ottumwa in an eight-inning regional final last summer, will face the Bulldogs in a Class 5A consolation contest on Veterans Field at approximately 1:30 p.m.
“Last year’s game was really heartbreaking because it was the game to go to state. That game was really tough on us,” Ottumwa junior pitcher Kacy Nickerson said. “Knowing this is our last game of the season and already being here at state, our mindset is to just go out there and win this. Let’s give our seniors a good sendoff. Let’s make this game really count.
“It was great to beat them earlier this year. This one would be even sweeter.”
Nickerson was the first Bulldog to step to plate, grounding out to third to open Ottumwa’s 28th state tournament appearance. Kaylee Bix was hit by the next pitch and Jillian Heaton coaxed a walk, putting two runners on with two outs.
Molly Jacobson rallied in the pitching circle for Waukee, striking out Hannah Huisinga and forcing Abby Bowers into an inning-ending ground out. Nickerson then took the ball and stepped into the circle in the middle of a large crowd that had gathered for the first 5A state quarterfinal at Kruger Seeds Field.
“It’s not what I expected coming into it,” Nickerson said. “You never know what you’re going to feel until you realize you’re on the diamond for the first time in a state tournament. There were a lot of nerves coming in before even playing the game, but there was also a lot of excitement. We were ready to play the sport we love.”
Nickerson pitched around an initial walk Delaney Taylor, coaxing three straight outs recorded by Bulldog infielders. Amber Shotts would have an active day for the Bulldogs nearly colliding with third baseman Josie Lemonds on a popped up bunt by Heidi Wheeler for the first out of the first inning before stepping up in the second inning to record the first of two hits for the freshman in her state tournament debut.
“I always try to go into each game with a positive mindset,” Shotts said. “I always try to think calm by play hard. When I stepped up to the plate, I really ready for that pitch. I think it was a 3-2 count and, if it was a change-up, I was going to be ready for it. I was ready for any pitch that came my way.
“I swung. There it went. It’s very exciting. There’s an adrenaline rush that goes through you.”
Jacobson, however, would retire Anne Guest on strikes to end the top of the second inning. Reagan Bartholomew opened the bottom of the frame with a triple to left, scoring the first of Waukee’s five runs in the frame on an RBI single by Molly Platte. Taylor and Jayln Yaukovitz added two-run hits to give the Warriors a 5-0 lead.
“We played a very good team. This is the first time our players have stepped on to the field at state. I think that caused us to be very tentative,” Ottumwa head softball coach Frank Huston said. “Defensively, we were kind of back on our heels. Offensively, we were probably a little too aggressive at times swinging at pitches off the plate. That’s inexperience at this level.”
Waukee (39-3) added three more runs on an RBI double by Ariana Rodriguez and a two-run triple by Taylor in the third. That would be all the runs Nickerson would allow, retiring the Warriors in order in the fourth and pitching out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth as the Warriors threatened to end the game on the 10-run mercy rule.
“It’s like the regional finals times two,” said Huston after his 28th state tournament opening game in 47 seasons as Ottumwa head softball coach. “The score got a little bit ugly, but we might have got over being timid early. We did settle in, especially defensively.”
Bix, Guest and Lemonds also recorded hits for the Bulldogs, who will look to finish the season on a winning note. With a victory over Indianola, Ottumwa would move within one win heading into the 2020 season of 1,700 program victories, all under Huston.
“There’s a lot of pride and a lot fight in our girls,” Huston said. “They got one more. It will be fun to play one more this season.”