ELDON — Dave Oleson headed out to the pitching circle with the Cardinal softball team on the verge of making a comeback in a pivotal showdown in the Southeast Iowa Superconference south division race.
Three walks to four batters had given the Comets a bases-loaded opportunity in the bottom of the fourth. Oleson, the head coach of West Burlington-Notre Dame, saw his eighth-grade ace pitcher struggling to find the strike zone with the Falcons ahead 2-0 while struggling with an injury to her finger suffered during pregame warm-ups.
"I went out to get her because I knew she was injured," Oleson said. "When I went out to get her, she told me to go back to the dugout. She wanted to finish it.
"Then, she struck out nine of the next 10 batters."
Lauren Summers put a pregame injury out of her mind, recording her 13th win of her first season as a high school softball pitcher. Summers struck out 15 batters, including the final six Comet batters, as WBND remained perfect in seven SEI south games earning a 4-0 win over the Comets that gives the Falcons a three-game edge in the race for the division title.
"I was letting the injury get into my head and I started have to fight through it," Summers said. "I just realized I had to put it out of my head. I stopped thinking about it and I started thinking about pitching my game."
Summers now has 144 strikeouts in 18 starts, 20 overall appearances and 114 innings pitched this season. If not for an infield single by Maddie Cloke in the third inning, Summers would have thrown a no-hitter in a game that pitted the top two teams in the SEI south standings with the Comets needing the win to move within a game of the Falcons for the division lead.
"She's got a good rise ball and we didn't make an adjustment to lay off it," Cardinal head softball coach Sabrina Morrison said. "It's pretty tough. Either you have to lay off it or you hit before it gets up in the strike zone. I just think that we didn't adjust well enough to work the count in our favor. You could see a pattern develop. She (Summers) went inside then went outside. The next pitch would be the rise ball and we just didn't attack the inside pitch. We didn't get off the plate and make it so the pitch wasn't inside."
Maddie Cloke drove in three runs as the Comets struck early to claim a 9-3 SEI Superconference South Division road win on Monday night over Van Buren. Cardinal scored four times in the opening inning, withstood a brief rally by the Warriors, then took control of the game with four more runs in the fourth to go up 8-2.
Caitlyn Reber, Alexia McClure and Cloke all scored two runs apiece, while Cloke had three hits, including a pair of doubles. Kassidy Verrips pitched 6 2/3 innings inning of relief to get the win, striking out seven and not allowing an earned run.
"We had a tough game at Van Buren that went in our favor," Morrison said. "We didn't come out as fired up as we normally do for a big home game. The girls were a little flat starting off this one. We also had a hard time figuring out the strike zone. We just didn't play our game."
Cardinal did have chances to push runs across in the first four innings, putting the tying run on base in the third before Verrips hit a hard grounder that was fielded for an out by Falcon second baseman Makenna Davis. Summers took over down the stretch, striking out Reber with the bases loaded to end the fourth-inning rally by the Comets, the first of 10 straight outs recorded by the Falcons (14-6, 7-0 SEI south) with nine coming by way of a Summers strikeout.
"I've watched Lauren play travel ball with my granddaughter for the past two years. Nothing seems to faze her," Oleson said of Summers. "It's just in her mindset. She has it in her mind to go out there and compete. She's also a good hitter for us. She's only an eighth-grader, but she's leading the team in many ways."
Cardinal (9-7, 4-4 SEI south) steps out of conference tonight for a road contest at Davis County.
"We've got a game every day this week, which is the way I like it," Morrison joked. "The girls will finally get a break on Sunday."