FORT DODGE — If you wear a headband that says ‘Legend,’ you better play like one.
Jena Lawrence put on a performance worthy of being called an Albia sports legend on Friday. In her final game for the Lady Dees, Lawrence pitched a three-hit shutout and provided the only run of the game with a fourth-inning home run to dead center. It all added up to the first team state championship in the history of Albia High School as the top-ranked Lady Dees claimed the Class 3A state softball title with a 1-0 win over third-ranked Williamsburg on Friday at Kruger Seeds Field.
Lawrence struck out eight batters, including three inning-ending strikeouts in a row that left Williamsburg base runners stranded at second base. After striking out Peyton Driscoll for the second out in the seventh inning with Jill Holub standing at third base representing the tying run, Lawrence got Megan Lamparek to send a fly ball out to right that was caught by senior Abigail Martin, clinching the first state title for the Lady Dee softball program.
“I could tell right away when the ball went off the bat that it was going to be an easy fly ball to Abbie. I thought it was going to go foul until I saw it start drifting her way,” Lawrence said. “I knew it was caught. I knew we had it. It’s full circle for a lot of us. We came in winning a state Little League title together. We’re going out as state high school champions. It’s hard to believe it’s finally over.”
Lawrence and Martin are two of Albia’s seven senior softball players that first got together as members of the Monroe County Little League All-Stars. The squad not only won the Iowa state title, but came within one win of the Central Regional title and a berth in the Little League World Series.
Since that run, Albia’s seven seniors helped lead the high school program to five straight regional finals and four straight trips to the state softball tournament. After losing as a freshmen in the 2017 state title game to Davenport Assumption, the Lady Dee seniors checked the final box on their list of accomplishments on their final day as Albia High School student athletes.
“It’s really sad in a way. There’s been a lot of crying throughout the day knowing this was going to be our last game together,” Lawrence said. “McKenna Ross was crying all the way over on the drive to the field. We were all bawling. Alex was kind of kidding, but she mentioned this was the last time she’d be tying these cleats on or putting this catching gear on. It was the last time she warmed me up for a game. It made us laugh, but it also made us cry.”
The tears of sadness were replaced by tears of joy mere hours later. Lawrence retired the first 10 Williamsburg batters before stranding Charley Geguzis at second in the fourth inning as Lauren Bayer’s running basket catch in foul territory retired Carly Campbell for the second out before Lawrence struck out Raider clean-up hitter Jill Holub to end the threat.
“You’ve got to put together three good games to get into the state tournament and you have to put together three exceptional games to win the state championship,” Albia co-head softball coach Jani Dorpinghaus said. “Talent goes a long way, but luck helps a lot too. Our defense was absolutely flawless throughout this tournament. The girls made play after play to get us into the championship game. I can’t speak enough about that. It speaks to this team. They’re a tight-knit group that enjoys doing everything together.”
Things like celebrating a home run, which Lawrence ignited leading off the fourth. Facing Driscoll, her freshman counterpart, Lawrence blasted a pitch deep to center that drove Raider outfielder Shannon Finn into the fence while the ball continued to sail out into the crowd on the other side. It was Lawrence’s first home run of the season and the first since hitting a walk-off three-run homer in last year’s regional championship win over North Polk.
“When I hit it, I didn’t even feel it. I just saw that it was going pretty far,” Lawrence said. “I’ve had a lot of hits like that this season. They never went over the fence. I looked at it for one second, then turned and looked at first base.
“I didn’t see it was over until I turned past first. I saw Jani cheering, I heard the crowd and I saw it drop on the ground. It didn’t feel like I hit the ball that hard. I must have hit it perfectly.”
Williamsburg (25-5) threatened to match that run in each of the final three innings. Riley Metz reached second running for Elle Ridgeway, who walked to lead off the fifth. Aubrey Walters bunted for a single and stole second base with one out in the sixth and Holub singled off the glove of Albia shortstop Lauren Bayer leading off the seventh.
Each time, Lawrence made the pitches to preserve the 1-0 lead. Olivia Stratton struck out swinging to end the fifth, Campbell did the same in the sixth and Driscoll took a third strike needing simply to put the ball in play in the seventh to answer the run she had given up three innings earlier.
“I’m trying to strike out every batter, even though I know that’s not going to happen,” Lawrence said. “They (Williamsburg) are in the state title game. They’re going to be a good team. They’re going to get some good hits. I know I’m not going to strike them all out. I try to bear down and get that strike out when we absolutely need it.”
Lawrence led Albia with six state tournament hits, finished with a perfect pitching record of 20-0 this season and earned a place in the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union’s Softball Hall-of-Fame by earning her 100th career win during this year’s state tournament. Albia had four players named to the Class 3A all-tournament team with Beard, Bayer and Danica Workman joining Lawrence, the all-tournament captain.
It all adds up to a day unlike any other for those from the Monroe County community. Dorpinghaus, who graduated from Albia in 1981 and is stepping down as co-head coach after this season, talked about the historic accomplishment.
“When you’re chasing a state championship for the first time in school history, that’s a hard concept to believe can ever happen,” Dorpinghaus said. “These girls are the ones that believed it. They talked about it in the Suburban on the drive over to the park. They believed they could win a state championship. They’re the ones that made it happen.”