ALBIA — Perhaps it was fitting that the Iowa District 7 Little League softball championship was decided on Independence Day.
It was a celebration of players decked in red, white and blue when things were all said and done on Thursday. Monroe County rallied from an early three-run deficit, edging Davis County 7-5 to earn a trip to the Iowa State Little League softball tournament that begins this weekend at the Lacey Recreational Sports Complex in Oskaloosa.
The two teams were originally scheduled to decide the championship Wednesday night after an incredibly wild 17-15 win by Davis County on Tuesday evened the best-of-three series at 1-1. Monroe County loaded the bases to open the game before three straight strikeouts halted the rally.
Then, Mother Nature halted the rest of the proceedings.
“We had a big old monsoon come through on (Wednesday) night right after the top of the first inning,” Monroe County coach Brad DeMoss said. “We were out there on the field and it just cut loose. The field looked like it was a pond. The ditches were full of water and spilled on to the road.
“We just had to reset. We decided not to prolong the make-up with the state tournament starting on Saturday. We didn’t want to lose the chance to get a day’s rest before opening at state, so we decided to make it up (Thursday).”
Unlike other communities, the majority of Independence Day activities in Albia had taken place the night before. That allowed many fans to return to Washington Park to root on the Monroe County All-Stars in the district championship contest.
“The fireworks were actually held (Wednesday) night. There’s actually not much else that was going on,” DeMoss said. “It turned out to be a great move.”
It appeared things would work out better for Davis County on Thursday early on. The Bloomfield squad came out swinging, connecting on four hits off Grace Pence and scoring three times in the bottom of the first as the game resumed, opening a 3-0 lead after an RBI single by Ali Lawson capped the scoring.
“Davis County is a salty team. They’re very well coached. It’s been great facing them so many times for the district championship,” DeMoss said. “The girls really held their composure. They’re enjoying the ride that they’re on. Even after that first inning, you could hear plenty of noise and support coming from our dugout.”
Monroe County chipped into the lead with RBI hits from Lilly DeMoss and Matty Kovacevich over the next two innings, but fell behind 4-2 after Lawson’s second straight run-scoring hit in the third. Entering the fifth, Davis County pitcher Lydia Barker opened the inning striking out Brianna Driver leaving Monroe County with just five outs left to work with in their season.
The next five batters, however, would extend Monroe County’s season. Pence kicked off a five-run rally with a single and would eventually score on a bases-loaded two-run hit from Sydney Collette to tie the score at 4-4 with one out.
That brought DeMoss back up, who nearly bunted into a out as Lawson could not quite squeeze what would have been an important second out diving behind the plate. Three pitches later, DeMoss roped a grounder that bounced off third base and into left field, bringing home Olivia Sheffield with the go-ahead run for Monroe County.
“I was pretty nervous coming up there,” Lilly DeMoss said. “I was just looking to get a big hit. I don’t think I’ve ever had one bounce off the base like that.”
Monroe County added two more runs on ground balls by Angelina Rodriguez and Chloe DeMoss. Those runs loomed large as Davis County scored in the bottom of the fifth to pull within 7-5. Monroe County threw out Laynee Moore trying to reach third with tying run at the plate then clinched the title in the sixth when Driver made a diving catch in left for the final out.
“I was pretty sure I could get to the ball, but I was pretty nervous I was going to drop it,” Driver said. “I just made the dive and I was able to catch it. It felt great to get that winning final out.”
Monroe County opens state tournament play Saturday against Grandview at 1 p.m. The Albia squad also faces Pella on Sunday at 5 p.m., defending state champion Central Iowa on Monday at 6 p.m., Morningside on Tuesday at 4 p.m. and Burlington on Wednesday at 8 p.m. Should Monroe County finish with one of the top two records after round-robin play has concluded, the team will play in the Iowa Little League state championship game next Thursday night at 6:30 p.m.