OTTUMWA — Mandi Moore didn't need to see the preseason rankings to know what the Ottumwa High School softball team would be up against on Tuesday in their season opener.

"You always know Southeast Polk is going to be good competition," Moore said. "When you put them up to be your season opener, you expect a good game."

As it turned out, the Bulldogs got tested by Class 5A's third-ranked team. The Rams showed the moxie of a state tournament contender, taking advantage of every small opening to produce two big wins on opening night edging OHS 4-1 in game one before scoring the first 12 runs in the first three innings of a 16-4 victory in the nightcap at Frank Huston Field.

"I thought we competed well in the first game. Right now, my main focus is to get my new faces a lot of innings," Moore said. "That was my goal especially with Sydney (Rockhold) in the second game."

Rockhold, making her first varsity start in the pitching circle, struggled early against the third-ranked Rams allowing a run without a hit in the first inning thanks to a pair of walks that set up a sacrifice fly by Aubrey Bacon. Ava Goldsberry opened the second inning driving a pitch over the fence in left, bringing in the first of two runs for Southeast Polk in the second inning, before the Rams broke things open in the third scoring nine runs on nine hits including a two-run homer by Bacon and a three-run homer by Jesslyn Stairs giving Southeast Polk a commanding 12-0 lead.

"I wanted to put her through basically everything I could put her through so when it's make-or-break time later in the season, she has that experience under her belt," Moore said of Rockhold. "I just told her it'll be her first varsity game she's ever pitched start to finish. I told her it was time to buckle down and see what she could do.

"It's a new position for her. It's something she'll have to work into. I don't have too many worries. She's a good kid and she's willing to put in that work. You'll see her get better throughout the season."

Ottumwa (0-2) refused to go quietly as the Rams were three outs away from a stunning three-inning win in the second game. After being held to one run on four hits over the first eight innings of the doubleheader, the Bulldogs connected on seven hits over the next three innings scoring four runs with a two-out, two-run single by Ashlynn Sheets in the third keeping the game alive.

"That third inning stung a little, but I think we all had a good mindset," Sheets said. "We knew we could hit that pitcher. We were a little more confident at the plate knowing we could get our bats around a little quicker. We all had the same mindset and worked together throughout the entire line-up."

Sheets suffered the loss in the pitching circle in game one, striking out six batters over seven innings doubling the total number of strikeouts for OHS batters in the opener against Jayda Long. While Long didn't overpower the Bulldog hitters, the Ram senior was able to keep Ottumwa off balance resulting in six groundouts, four pop ups on the infield and five harmless fly outs to the outfield.

"Their pitchers were throwing just under the speed we like to hit," Ottumwa senior Jordan Pauls said. "They weren't slow by any means, but they were just slower than what I like."

Pauls, however, did deliver the biggest blow of the night for the Bulldogs bringing in the first run of the game in the third inning of game one. In just her second at-bat of the season, Pauls hammered Ottumwa's first home run of the year over the fence in left cutting Southeast Polk's opening-game lead to 2-1.

"I was really hit something. I was really early on almost every pitch I made contact with throughout the night, but that home run felt really nice," Pauls said. "It gives me a lot of confidence that I could be in line for a great season. Hopefully, it's the first of many more to come."

Ella Allar led Ottumwa in the doubleheader with three combined hits, including a double in game one. Sheets drove in three of Ottumwa's four runs in game two, going 2-4 in the nightcap as the third-ranked (5A) Rams (2-0) secured the sweep batting around in the seventh scoring four more insurance runs with Stairs and Goldsberry connecting on run-scoring singles opening a 16-3 lead.

"The big thing we push as a coaching staff is to stay positive and play the game we know we can play," Moore said. "I don't think at one point the girls ever laid down and gave up. I'm extremely happy with how we overcame and the attitudes we've shown so far, especially with this being the first two games.

"I know these girls are capable of hanging with a top three team. That just shows we're very capable of making it to Fort Dodge."

Ottumwa opens Iowa Alliance Conference south division action on Thursday at home against Des Moines Hoover. The varsity doubleheader begins at 5 p.m.

— Scott Jackson can be reached at Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.


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