CENTERVILLE — Lexi Jirak could sense something was different about Monday night’s softball doubleheader in Centerville.
That was well before Jirak officially etched her name in the Van Buren County history books, or at least the board that resides inside the high school. Jirak collected her 36th career stolen base during the second game of a doubleheader sweep for the Warriors, taking third base in the top of the first inning to snap a tie with Mackenzie (Zeitler) Ostrander.
The steal drew a huge reaction from the VBC dugout. It was hardly the only noise made by the Warriors, who followed a 5-1 win in game one against the Redettes with a 15-1 five-inning victory in game two.
“I feel like this was the first night of the season where everyone just played together and had fun,” Jirak said after collecting four hits and scoring four runs in the doubleheader. “Chelsey (Huff) and I were talking about it. We haven’t really seen everyone enjoying the season a lot so far. This felt different.
“Everyone was talking. Everyone was having fun. We played good and it felt good.”
The feeling was much different on the other side of the field. Centerville (6-7) entered Monday night without senior Alyssa McElvain, who has started 10 of Centerville’s first 11 games in the pitching circle but may have played her final game last Friday in a 5-3 loss to eighth-ranked (4A) Oskaloosa, choosing not to play on Monday and potentially choosing not to play for the remainder of the season.
“That’s tough to come back when you don’t have a kid that’s thrown so well and so much for you over the past three or four years,” VBC head softball coach Randy Smith said. “No matter who was pitching, we still had to go up there and hit the ball. The girls did a good job doing that.”
The top three hitters in the Warrior line-up set the tone with Jirak, Huff and lead-off hitting power threat Isabel Manning all leading the charge against the Redettes. Huff earned the win in the opening game in the pitching circle, coming within an out of a complete-game shutout while striking out eight Centerville batters.
At the plate, Huff had four hits of her own including three hits in game two with a pair of run-scoring singles, aiding an eight-run rally in the third inning and a five-run rally in the fifth. Manning, meanwhile, launched her fifth home run of the season in game two while leading the Warriors with six runs scored in the two wins.
“My dad and I have been working a lot together. We’ve got a barn where we can go practice and get some hits in,” Manning said. “That’s really helped me this year. The support from my team has also been great. Every time I come home, they’re right there at the plate to greet me. It’s a great comradery we’ve got on this team.”
Manning is used to finding that success comradery at Van Buren County. Besides being one of the top hitters on the Warrior softball team, Manning was the starting setter on VBC’s first state-qualifying basketball team before becoming captain of the All-Courier girls basketball team, earning all-state honors on the hardwood while helping the Warriors come within one win for the second straight year of a state tournament berth. Manning likely would have made a run at qualifying for the state track and field meet had the season been held this spring.
“It definitely helps having success in every sport,” Manning said. “It all kind of leads into each other. I just try to improve with each season a little more to do my best for the team.”
Jirak singled and tied Ostrander’s stolen base record in the first inning of game one, moving into scoring position for Annabell Cormier’s clutch two-out RBI single. Jirak entered the season unaware of just how close she was to the career stolen base mark until seeing the record in the hallway one day at Van Buren County High School.
“Our sports boosters just raised the money this past fall to put those record boards up. When I saw that number, I thought I wasn’t too far away from that. When I went back and added up the steals from each season, I needed 10 more to beat it. I made that my goal for the season.
“I was a little worried because of the season being shortened, but we’ve still got at least four games left. Now, it’s not just about breaking the record. It’s about setting it. It’s pretty cool to think I’m going to have my name on that board in the hall.”
Huff’s two-out RBI single in the third inning brought home Shea Scott, giving VBC a 2-0 lead in game one. Manning scored the first of her six runs on a wild pitch in the fifth before scoring along with Jirak in the seventh, giving the Warriors a five-run cushion.
Centerville avoided being shut out with RBI hits in the final inning of both games. Claire Mathews, who took over McElvain’s role as the game one starting pitcher for Centerville, singled in Sarah Lewis before being forced out at second to end game one with the tying run on deck.
Brecklyn Carney broke up Aly Campbell’s bid for a five-inning shutout, driving in Kiera Klum with an RBI single to left. Campbell rebounded to retire the final two Centerville hitters, completing a three-hitter with her sixth strikeout.
“Van Buren is a competitive 1A school, but I just felt that, for whatever reason, my kids did not play very well,” Centerville head softball coach D. Merle Jones said. “The sun is going to come up tomorrow. This wasn’t our finest day, but we’re playing a lot of young kids. We’re going to get better.”