WEST BURLINGTON — Oh sure. There were smiles, high-fives and hugs shared outside the dugout by Davis County High School softball players after clinching a 2-1 regional semifinal win over West Burlington-Notre Dame.
Sophia Young's running catch in center field, however, didn't set off the type of explosive celebration some might have expected. Just two years removed from suffering an 11th consecutive losing season, the 14th-ranked Mustangs are one win away from the Class 3A state softball tournament after knocking off the fifth-ranked Falcons, 2-1, on Friday afternoon at Barb Carter Field.
Early in the season, Davis County and West Burlington-Notre Dame might have looked like a mismatch on paper. Even heading into Friday's postseason encounter, the Falcons certainly appeared to the favorites having spent all season ranked among the top five teams in Class 3A while losing just four times in 34 games.
The Mustangs, however, are quickly proving to everyone they can play and beat even the teams that are considered to be among the best in the state. One more awaits on Monday in the 3A, Region 8 championship game when Davis County (21-7) visits eighth-ranked West Liberty (22-7), a 6-2 rain-shortened winner on Friday against 15th-ranked Knoxville.
"I know the girls feel like they belong on the same field with anybody in the state. That's all you need," Davis County head softball coach Zach Dunlavy said. "A lot of these girls have played in some big games throughout their careers going up through Little League and travel ball. I don't think any moment is going to be too big for them."
Hence the somewhat subdued celebration after knocking off 30-5 West Burlington-Notre Dame on the Falcons' home field.
"I feel like, coming into this game, we knew we could do this," Davis County junior shortstop Briley Lough said. "It was just a matter of how we all performed."
It was Lough that had what proved to be the two biggest hits of the game. Facing Lauren Summers, the pitcher with the most wins (26) and third-most strikeouts (247) in Class 3A, the Mustangs put two runners on with two outs before Lough drilled a pitch that fell just short of going over the fence for a three-run homer.
Instead, the ball bounced off the fence, allowing Sophia Young to come home from third. While the Falcons were able to throw out Laynee Moore at home on the hit, Davis County had the early 1-0 lead over Summers and the Falcons.
"We talk quite a bit about getting on the board early and getting that first run," Dunlavy said. "We were hitting the ball hard. I think if the fence was 10 feet in, we might have had a couple home runs."
Rachel McFarland was the next to test the limits of Carter Field, doubling off the fence with two outs in the third. Summers yielded hits to the Mustangs in six of seven innings, giving Davis County an overall 8-4 edge in base hits against the team with the fifth-best batting average (.370) and fourth-fewest hits allowed (139) in all of Class 3A.
"Summers is solid. She's one of the best pitchers in the state regardless of what class you're talking about," Dunlavy said. "We just seemed to be tuned in at the plate. We got the barrel on the ball. We talk with the girls all the time about that. When you have a pitcher throwing hard, get the barrel through the (strike) zone and let her do the work."
That's exactly the strategy Lough used twice at the plate against Summers. After driving in a run with a double in the first, Lough doubled to open the fourth and came home with two outs after initially failing to score on a ball that dropped into right off the bat of Madison Dunlavy.
Fortunately for Lough, Caden VanLaningham had her back, grounding a ball back up the middle for an RBI single to put Davis County up 2-0.
"It was a just a matter of swinging the bat. See the ball and hit the ball. Keep your front elbow up because she's throwing a lot of riseballs," Lough said. "The big thing we've been working on in practice is accountability and execution. When we put runners on base, we needed to put the ball in play so we could score."
Logan Kelley quickly cut Davis County's lead back to a single run in the bottom of the fourth, breaking into the top five of all Iowa high school softball hitters this season with her 17th home run. West Burlington-Notre Dame would threaten in both the fourth and sixth innings, putting the tying and go-ahead runs on base each time.
Each time, the Mustangs shut the Falcons down. Madeline Barker fielded a one-hopper back in the pitching circle for the final out of the fourth before a pop up, a fielder's choice groundout and a fly ball to shallow center in the sixth prevented WBND from taking a late lead.
"The mentality of the girls is one that doesn't make this feel too much like a huge upset," Dunlavy said. "We're playing with confidence. We feel like we can play with anybody that's out there right now. That's all we're tying to do."