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Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Last Dance

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Saturday was the end of an era for Buena Vista softball. And the beginning of one.

The games against rival Coe were the last of head coach Marge Willadsen's 28-season-long career.

They were also the first contests ever played on the new Storm Lake High School-Buena Vista University baseball/softball fields, a joint project a year in the making. For the history books, it was Willadsen threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Only one thing could have made this day bigger - wins to send out the coach and her final three seniors in style.

In chilly, blustery conditions, however, it was 28-12 Coe that prevailed, 8-5 and 11-0.

As if scripted, the final game of Willadsen's reign started with her senior all-everything leader Brandi Sykora on the mound, and finished with her heir apparent recruit there, freshman hurler Morgan Darrow. The Storm Lake product remembers cutting her softball teeth as a youngster going to Willadsen's camps every summer.

In the end, it was the Beavers' inability to string together their hits to light up the scoreboard - the achille's heel of the whole season - that ended the last game prematurely in five innings.

But there was little time to get all sentimental for Willadsen, who held down her familiar spot on the third base line, all-business, as BVU mounted a runners-on rally in their final at-bat in hopes of extending the game. Only after a fielder's choice brought the game to a sudden thunk of a conclusion did she show any emotion.

Every game ends with the traditional, semi-sincere show of sportsmanship as teams line up to tap hands and mutter "good game" at each other. When, in that process, have you ever seen opposing coaches hug? Even the umpires lined up to express their appreciation of the BVU matriarch, who will be continuing with the university as an assistant athletic director.

Willadsen took some extra time to kneel with her team in the new grass of the outfield after the game, and got uncharacteristically misty-eyed for a few photos with loved ones and players before she hung up her visor.

If the fans didn't get the desired outcome, they did seen impressed with the future home of the Beaver and Tornado diamond sports.

Still something of a work in progress, Willadsen thanked everyone who worked to get the field ready enough to debut for the season-closing series. Some college athletes had even been out in recent days helping to finish fence trim and batting cages at the complex. The roofs went on dugouts just a couple of days before the first game. Bleachers are yet to arrive, and the ground around the diamond was rough and sloppy, but fans employed lawn chairs or leaned on the baseline fences and didn't seem to notice any discomfort.

The Kohaws jumped out to a 6-0 lead in game one, plating three runs each in the second and fifth against starter Sykora, who once again went the distance for BV.

The Beavers gnawed away on the lead by scratching out a couple of unearned runs with two out in the bottom of the sixth, and following a pair on insurance runs late for Coe, BV scored three runs in the final frame. Sykora, one of BVU's biggest threats at the plate in addition to her pitching and infield contributions, sparked the run with an RBI single, and Monica Tucker Tripled to bring in two more runners.

The second game of the double-dip was a picther's dual, except for the second inning when Coe exploded for 10 of its 11 runs.

The Beavers managed only two hits, one each by the two former Storm Lake players on the team, freshman Morgan Darrow and sophomore Ty Zimmerman.

Darrow came on in relief of tiring Sykora to end the damage in the second frame, and went the rest of the way with only three hits spared to the Kohawks.

Buena Vista ends it season a disappointing 8-26, 2-14 in the Iowa Conference. After churning out 65 runs and giving up only five in five wins during their early trip to the Tucson tournament in Arizona, the Beavers lost 16 of their last 18, getting shut out eight times.

Sykora, Monica Tucker and Julie Bump played their final game for the young Buena Vista squad.

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