EDDYVILLE — Head coach Zack Dunkin wasn't sure what to expect from his Twin Cedars softball team this season.
What the Sabers are producing may be a season to remember.
Twin Cedars improved to 24-2 on the season, winning the second of three games played on Wednesday at the Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont softball diamond. The Sabers used clutch two-out hitting to string together a pair of five-run rallies in an 11-3 victory over Cardinal, who lost the first game of the impromptu triangular to EBF 6-4 stranding the tying run on base.
The length of the first two games as well as a brief celebration of EBF seniors Reina Taylor and Darian Johnson pushed the first pitch of the finale between the Sabers and Rockets until 9 p.m. EBF rallied from a two-run deficit to win, 12-6, to earn a pair of much-needed wins after losing games at home this week to Davis County and Oskaloosa.
The Sabers, meanwhile, fell for the just third time in 27 games this season.
"I probably wouldn't have believed you if you told me we'd be standing here at 24-3, but I did think the potential was there for us to have a good season," Dunkin said. "We won 13 games last year with a bunch of eighth-graders playing. We're still pretty young with a lot of freshman talent this season, but I really though the Bluegrass Conference was going to be tough.
"We really ramped our schedule up, but the main thing we stressed going into this season was defense. We've been hitting the ball really well, but we made a ton of errors last year. We don't have overpowering pitching, so we're not going to rack up a lot of strikeouts, but our pitchers do a good job mixing up their pitches and controlling the speed. We just have to field the ball when it gets hit into play."
The Sabers took full advantage of a few missed plays in the field by the Comets. The Sabers loaded the bases in the fourth inning with the game tied at 1-1 and, with an extra out opportunity, broke in front as Brooke Roby and Alli Mackenhaupt delivered back-to-back two-run doubles.
"We just let too many routine ground balls and too many routine fly balls get away from us," Cardinal head coach Sabrina Morrison said. "Errors ultimately cost us. We're tied at 1-1, we don't make a play in the field and it gets away from us."
Cardinal (10-9) got 12 innings in the pitching circle from eighth-grader Ava Ferrell, who made her first two varsity starts for the Comets against a pair of 20-win teams. Ferrell allowed just three earned runs to the Rockets (21-9) in game one, keeping the Comets in the game by issuing just one walk in her first complete game effort.
"I was just trying to throw my pitches and let my defense do what they do," Ferrell said. "I just wanted to get the pitch to the plate and let the hitters swing. I'm encouraged with how I pitched."
Rachel Lewman drove in three runs in game one for Cardinal, including a two-run double that briefly put the Comets ahead of EBF 4-3 in the third inning. Emalee Davis tied the game in the bottom of the third on a sacrifice fly, then scored the go-ahead run after joining Johnson with back-to-back two-out doubles in the fifth.
Cardinal jumped out to first-inning leads in both games. Riley Bears drew a bases-loaded walk in the opening inning against the Sabers as the Comets stranded six base runners in the first four innings, preventing Cardinal from opening a bigger lead.
"We talked a lot in the pregame about putting runs on the board and we didn't put as many runs up as we needed to," Morrison said. "Ava pitched two phenomenal games. Our bats were not as on fire as we would have liked."
All three teams learned their regional tournament draws during the night. Cardinal will open at Wapello on July 10 in Class 2A regional play, the same night EBF opens at home in Class 3A regional action against Williamsburg.
Twin Cedars, meanwhile, will get two home games should the Sabers continue to advance in Class 1A, Region 4. The Sabers open on July 10 at home against either Lamoni or Baxter. With a win, Twin Cedars would host either Melcher-Dallas, Moravia or Moulton-Udell on July 12 in the regional semifinals.
"You never like to think that far ahead, but Melcher-Dallas is a great rival with us in all sports," Dunkin said. "It's pretty exciting for the kids to have the chance to play multiple postseason games at home."