N-F edges North Kossuth for 2nd straight state berth
It's been an odd season for the Newell-Fonda softball team, but fortunately, one with no shortage of jubilation.
Early in the season, the Mustangs were ranked first in Class A for a couple of weeks. Later in the season, the team struggled enough to drop to 12th in Class 1A in the last rankings July 13.
Not that rankings matter much; it's more about peaking at playoff time, and that's just what the Mustangs have done.
Monday night in Algona, Newell-Fonda played flawlessly behind the three-hit pitching of Hanna Reis, and had just enough offense to beat North Kossuth 2-1 in a Class 1A, Region 4 final.
With the win, the Mustangs improved to 26-11. More importantly, they advance to their second straight state tournament.
Next Monday, they'll meet Earlham in a Class 1A State Quarterfinal at 5 p.m. on Diamond One at Harlan Rogers Sports Complex in Fort Dodge.
Earlham, 31-13, upset seventh-ranked Murray Monday night 1-0 in nine innings to advance to state.
The Mustangs weren't thinking much about their state tourney opener after Monday's win. They took some time to savor the victory.
"This one's just as sweet as last year and maybe a little more," said Reis, Newell-Fonda's completely unflappable righthander. "We had a little slump during part of the season, but we refocused and have played our best in tournaments."
Reis was superb Monday night, giving up a run in the first inning to the Cougars, who had been averaging nine runs per game. North Kossuth had also beaten some large school powers, including Fort Dodge Public, Storm Lake and Humboldt.
Cougar coach Art Ingalls wasn't in a talkative mood after the game as he stood around his players, most of them hugging parents with tears streaming down their faces.
"The umpire was giving the low outside corner pitch to their pitcher all night," he said. "I think that really hurt us.
"Reis threw well, but we've seen a lot of good pitchers this season and hit well against all of them. It was just an off night for us."
The Mustangs gave their ace an early lead, scoring once in the first inning.
Second place hitter Susan Kies, an eighth grader, hit a one-out single to start the rally. Ellen Gruntorad followed with another single and after Lauren Devereaux struck out, N-F shorstop Kelly Johnson singled home Kies for a 1-0 lead.
North Kossuth came back with a single run in the bottom of the first.
Jayne Blome hit a one-out single and moved to second when Reis walked Lana Bauer. After Tara Johnson was called out on strikes, senior Molly Albers singled home Blom for a tie at one.
The Mustangs scored the game's last run in the top of the second. Michelle Grau opened with a line-drive single to right. Reis made the second out on a high hopper to NK pitcher Autumn Ingalls, allowing Grau to advance to second. Mustang second baseman Tiffany Parker hit a single to score Grau for a 2-1 Mustang lead.
The Cougars threatened to tie in the fourth. After Reis got the first two hitters, Tabatha Carlson reached on an error and Autumn Ingalls singled. Reis got the third out when Megan Rolling hit an easy comebacker.
Reis got stronger as the game progressed, retiring North Kossuth in order in the fifth and sixth innings.
In the seventh, N-K's Jordan Vaske reached on an infield error and took second on Tara Johnson's groudout.
With the tying run on second and two out, Reis got ahead 0-2 on Albers, and on the third pitch, got the senior to hit another comebacker for the game's final out. Reis gave up just three hits, walked one and struck out two. Ingalls yielded eight hits, one walk and struck out eight.
Grau led N-F's eight-hit attack with two singles. Six other N-F players had one single each.
"I was proud of the way our girls kept their composure in such a pressure game," N-F coach Dick Jungers said. "We did a great job of executing offensivley and played great defense.
"Hanna pitched a real gem for us and giving up just three hits is a great job by her," he added.
Senior Ashley Lussman, who had a single for the Mustangs, said the team is confident going into state.
"We've focused a lot better in practice the last couple of weeks," she said. "We just have to keep this streak going.