PEKIN — Confidence.
Teams that qualify each year for the Iowa High School State Softball tournament are brimming with it. If the Pekin Panthers make it all the way to Fort Dodge, they'll need to play with the same type of confidence that carried them to a 3-0 win over Danville on Monday night in the opening round of Class 2A regional tournament play.
"Danville's a good team. They hit the ball really well, but we played good defense. That's what helps win softball games," Pekin head coach Shelby Atwood said. "We had a couple of errors, but errors won't hurt us if we're hitting the ball too."
Seniors Zoey Wright and Ellie Ledger each had a pair of hits, including the first two hits for the Panthers that led to a first inning run. Wright singled with two outs off Danville freshman pitcher Ava Smith, stole second base and came around on an RBI single to left by Ledger to give Pekin an early 1-0 lead.
"Being senior leaders, Ellie and I kind of see our job being to get those first couple of runs across and get a rally going with two (outs)," Wright said. "It was pretty important to come through right there. Ellie did her job. I feel like I did mine."
Ledger would come home after Emi Zook's inning-extending hit gave Erika Coleman a chance to put the ball in play, leading to a throwing error that doubled Pekin's one-run lead. Cari Duwa made that lead stand up, retiring nine straight batters after stranding two base runners in the first inning and allowing just four hits to the Bears (8-13) in seven innings.
"It kind of makes a statement when you can get out to an early lead," Atwood said. "It shows that we're here and we're going to score runs. It puts the pressure back on the other team. I've told the girls that, from this point forward, everyone is 0-0 and everyone is beatable."
Wright doubled and scored in her final at-bat at the Pekin softball diamond, baring multiple upsets that would allow Pekin to be the highest-seeded team in a regional final. Both Wright and Ledger had a pair of hits in what likely will be their final home games as Panther student athletes after graduating this past spring as part of the Pekin senior class of 2019.
"We were really prepared for this game and we were really comfortable out there," Ledger said. "It was extra special that we got our opening-round game here at home. Zoey and I are really going to miss playing on our home field, but it was great to be able to go out there and win at home one last time."
Wright was also greeted after the game by several friends from Ottumwa High School, including senior softball players Abby Bowers and Morgan Greiner. It was a bittersweet day for Greiner, who learned earlier in the day that her high school softball career is likely over after suffering a torn meniscus and ACL during Saturday's Ottumwa Classic, which Wright attended to support her friends from OHS.
"It's so awesome to have friends and teammates that don't even play for your school come out and support you," Wright said. "It was so good to see familiar faces. Morgan told me earlier on Saturday that she was going to be here. I wouldn't have blamed her if she didn't come out, but it was good to see her out here."
Danville didn't go away easily, putting two runners on in the seventh with one out before Kaley Eisenmann and Miranda Richards each grounded out to second as potential tying runs. Pekin improves to 17-14 with the win and will travel to Wilton on Wednesday for the second round of Class 2A regional tournament play.
"Every game is a new game and every day is a new day," Atwood said. "Wilton is a good ball club. They hit the ball really well and have solid pitching. I think we can beat them, but we have to come ready to play."