Mustangs make good where Cougars don’t

LE GRAND – In a battle between the two most lucrative offenses in the NICL West, this conference showdown came down to defense. And a returning state qualifier outperformed a state tournament hopeful in a highly anticipated rematch.

East Marshall showed the moxie that makes the Mustangs a team that AGWSR aspires to be, making the plays the Cougars couldn’t in a 1-0 walk-off triumph Tuesday night.

Class 2A No. 9 AGWSR (13-3, 9-1) suffered its first conference defeat against the 3A No. 4-ranked Mustangs (15-3, 6-2), reversing the outcome from their first meeting and tightening things up in the race for the NICL West crown East Marshall shared last season with BCLUW (15-3, 6-2).

The Cougars still control their own destiny, even if on Tuesday night they could not expand their lead in the league standings.

East Marshall got two of its four hits in the bottom of the seventh inning and Class 3A’s home run leader Katie Roseland made Taylor Fricke’s game-winning RBI single possible by dropping down a sacrifice bunt. Ashley Allen led off with a single and was safe at second base when AGWSR tried to eliminate the lead runner, and Fricke ripped an Ashley Sicard offering through the left side.

Marissa Horner, who had already gunned down the Mustangs’ best scoring chance back in the third inning, made another accurate throw home but it was not in time to prevent Allen from crossing the plate as the game-winning run.

Fricke smiled from ear to ear as she jogged into a mob of her coaches and teammates, and East Marshall celebrated a big win to keep its conference title hopes alive a night after BCLUW got back in stride with a 2-1 comeback win over the Mustangs on the same diamond.

“It felt good because I’ve been struggling, so I guess coming into a big situation I knew I had to do my job for the team,” said Fricke, who drove in her first run in eight days. “I had confidence in the people behind me because we all hit good, so either way we would have scored probably.”

And AGWSR, averaging 6 runs per game, could not. Haley Long, East Marshall’s veteran junior hurler, took the ball and allowed five singles with only two walks while striking out eight.

“We got a gem thrown by Haley Long and each inning we put a goose egg up on the board, our girls got more confidence because we weren’t striking out, we were moving the ball against one of the best pitchers in the conference,” said Mustang head coach Jary Hoskey. “The longer that Haley stayed in there with the scores at zero, that gave us a shot.

“I didn’t know how we’d score, we’d had some runners on and we’d had some hard-hit balls right at them. I sent Madisen (Hinegardner) in the third inning and it took a good throw and a good tag to get her, and that was about our only shot until the seventh.”

AGWSR outhit the Mustangs 5-4, but the Cougars went down swinging eight times to East Marshall’s three against Sicard, the NICL West’s strikeout leader (sixth in 2A). It’s those unproductive outs that had the Cougars wondering ‘what if’ after failing to plate any of the eight runners to reach base.

Back-to-back bloop singles by Ella Frazier and Kristen Zacharias opened the game, but Long and her defense buckled down. Morgan Rose was unable to get down the bunt that Roseland later did, and strikeouts by Rose and Sicard were followed by Hannah Johnson’s flyout to center.

“We really left the barn door open in that first inning,” said AGWSR co-coach Scott O’Brien. “We had two runners on, nobody out and we didn’t execute. We didn’t get a bunt down, we didn’t hit the ball in that situation – we could have taken the wind out of their sails in the first inning and we didn’t seize that opportunity.

“To me that’s the whole turning point of the game, right there the first inning.”

The Cougars didn’t get another runner to third until the seventh, but a baserunning mistake prevented AGWSR from potentially plating the go-ahead run. Madison Fryslie led off with a single and took second on Horner’s sacrifice, and a groundout moved her to third. With two out, Long walked Frazier before her courtesy runner Morgan Kappel was cut down trying to steal second in what appeared to be a missed signal.

Roseland fired to Allen, who applied the tag on Kappel as Fryslie started racing toward home plate. O’Brien appeared none to pleased with how the situation played out, and it came back to bite the Cougars in East Marshall’s ensuing at-bat.

“We haven’t practiced it a lot but it’s a play we have practiced and we just made a mental mistake,” he said. “Those things happen, kids are human beings. They get caught up in the emotion and we’ll learn from it.

“The most important thing is the mistakes we made tonight, don’t repeat them and we’ll be fine.”

Sicard didn’t allow a hit until Hinegardner’s bunt single with two out in the third. After the throw from Johnson sailed wide of first, the throw back to the infield got away and allowed Hinegardner to advance to second. Mariah Fritz knocked a single off Zacharias’ glove at short, but Horner’s throw beat Hinegardner home to preserve the scoreless tie.

Sterling defensive plays by Fryslie in center and Zacharias kept the Mustangs off the bases again until the seventh, when East Marshall made the Cougars pay for failing to convert their scoring chance.

“We wanted it bad,” said Long, who improved to 9-1 in the circle. “We wished we could have won (Monday) night but we wanted this one bad.

“It’s very nerve-racking but it’s really exciting too. You want to pitch as best as you can and do your best with a really good hitting team like that.”

Hannah Johnson and Alexa Johnson added the only hits not aforementioned for the Cougars, who had their six-game winning streak snapped. They go to South Hardin on Wednesday, host West Marshall Thursday and then play in Marshalltown’s Bobcat Classic on Friday and Saturday.

“It was a great game, we have nothing to feel ashamed of losing to a team ranked that high in a class above us,” said O’Brien. “We said when you get out of your car tonight or off the bus back in Ackley, this game is over, you put it behind you and you better be ready to start thinking about what you’re doing tomorrow.”

East Marshall plays its third straight home game of the week, hosting South Tama tonight. The Mustangs play at Tama on Thursday, and then participate in Saturday’s session of the Bobcat Classic as well.

“We’re the walking wounded, we’ve got some people hurt, but we played with resiliency and I’m happy that we got the win,” said Hoskey. “We beat a good team, a well-coached team.”