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Runs could be at a premium in N-F/ Earlham tilt

Monday, July 31, 2006

Most expect Mustangs' state opener to be low-scoring

Newell-Fonda softball fans had to sweat things out last Monday in the Mustangs' 2-1 region final win over third-ranked North Kossuth.

They may do the same next Monday when Newell-Fonda opens Class 1A state tournament action vs. Earlham of the West Central Conference. Game time at Rogers Sports complex in Fort Dodge is 5 p.m.

Although anything can happen in a state tournament game, coaches of both teams say this matchup could be low-scoring.

Both teams have solid veteran pitchers. Mustang righthander Hanna Reis boasts a 21-7 record and an earned run average of 1.03. She has thrown 177 innings and given up 108 hits and just 21 walks while striking out 180.

Earlham, 32-13, relies on 5-foot-8 senior Sarah Gilmore, who enters Mondays game with a 26-9 mark, and a 0.52 ERA. She's thrown 243 innings and given up 176 hits, and 18 walks while striking out 232.

"Sarah and (Reis) are similar types of pitchers," Earlham coach Chris Caskey said earlier this week.

"Sarah isn't a hard-throwing, dominant pitcher, but she still throws with good velocity," he said. "What she's very good at is consistently throwing strikes and keeping hitters off balance."

During N-F's four tournament games thus far, Reis allowed just seven runs, with Laurens-Marathon getting five of them. She's allowed two runs in the other three tourney games."

Caskey added that defense has been his team's strong point along with Gilmore's pitching.

Newell-Fonda has played well defensively in four tournament games. Mustang coach Dick Jungers said it will be a major factor in Monday's game.

"We have to play solid, smart defense," he said "In two of our state tournament games last year, we had defensive meltdowns. We can't let that happen again."

Jungers also talked about what his team has to do offensively.

"We want to get runners on base, put some pressure on their defense, and execute well by moving runners," he said. "When we get runners in scoring position, we need to get some timely hits."

According to Caskey, the Cardinals started the season with an eight-game winning streak, rising as high as eighth in the IGHSAU 1A softball rankings. They split the next six games with three wins and three losses and eventually dropped out of the rankings.

"Most of our games have been low-scoring," Caskey said. "With our pitching and defense, we haven't had to score a lot of runs to win.

"But we know Newell-Fonda is a very good hitting team, with a good mix of speed and power. They also have an all-state-type pitcher," he added. "Defense will be a real key for us Monday."

In tournaments thus far, Earlham has had a couple of close calls. They won their district final 5-4 over Stanton and beat seventh-ranked Murray 1-0 last Monday in a region final.

"Most of the season, we've been making the most of our opportunities," Caskey added. "We hope to play that way next Monday.

Earlham has four players hitting over .300 and six players with at least 21 RBI.

Leading off is junior Mollie Hartman, who's hitting .341 with 25 RBI and a team-high 29 stolen bases. She has an on-base percentage of .406. Second place Jenna Ory hits second with a .212 average, while Jamie Imboden hits third. She has a team-leading 31 RBI and is hitting .320 with four doubles and two triples.

Hitting cleanup for Earlham is 5-9 first baseman Melanie Hopkins. She's driven in a team-high 48 runs with 11 doubles, two triples and one homer. She's hitting .350 with a .476 slugging percentage.

Hitting fifth is senior catcher Sarah Beaman, who boasts an average of .321 with six doubles, three triples and 21 RBI.

"Looking at the stats, it seems like we have four or five tough hitters at the top, then it drops down toward the bottom of the order," Caskey said.

"Sometimes statistics are deceiving, because we've had some key hits from kids in sixth through ninth positions in the order," he added. "Over the past couple of weeks, it seems someone different has stepped up offensively in every game."

Newell-Fonda, meanwhile, enters Monday's game with momentum and confidence. Reis has been locked in all during the postseason, and through the first three post-season games, N-F has scored 8.1 runs per game. Only the 2-1 win over North Kossuth was close.

"We're coming off a tough, emotional win," Jungers said Thursday. "It took us a day or two to get refocused, but we'll be ready to go by Monday.

"Right now, we're playing with a lot of confidence," Jungers said. "Midway through the season, we had a little slump and weren't getting many breaks. Over the past two weeks, we've been solid and made our own breaks."

Offensively, Newell-Fonda has a good balance of speed and hitters with ability to move runners over and hit the gaps.

Eight players have 17 RBI or more with senior outfielder Sam Schaffer leading the team with 25.

Second baseman Tiffany Parker leads the Mustangs in hitting with a .377 average, but is the only player hitting over .300.

The Mustangs are speedy on the basepaths, having stolen 87 bases. Parker leads the way with 18 stolen bases, while eighth grader Susan Kies has 17 and Ellen Gruntorad 14.

"Our key at the plate will be to be disciplined and hit good pitches," Jungers said. "When we've done that this season, we've been able to score some runs."

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