NICL West’s best headed to state: Class 2A No. 8 AGWSR to make program debut
WAVERLY – The first time is always the most memorable. And no matter what happens from here on out, this year’s AGWSR softball team has set the standard.
The standard that is the Iowa Girls’ High School State Softball Tournament.
The Class 2A No. 8 Cougars were in control of Denver from the opening pitch Monday, cranking out 15 hits at the plate during a 12-0 victory over the Cyclones in the Region 4 championship game at Waverly-Shell Rock High School.
The victory sends AGWSR (27-7) to the program’s first-ever state softball tourney.
“It is hard to put this into words,” AGWSR co-coach Scott O’Brien said. “I coached 11 years here before this year and had a lot of great teams but could never get over that final hump. It is very gratifying to finally get to that last destination.”
The Cougars were confident coming in, but no one expected the win to come as easy as it did. AGWSR, which won 10 of its last 11 games coming in, jumped out to a 2-0 lead with a run in each of the first two innings and then put the game away with a five-run third inning. The Cougars also plated one in the fifth and four more in the seventh.
“I didn’t get much sleep last night,” AGWSR co-coach Brenda Drake said. “We knew if we played our game and did what we needed to do, we could get it done. And you saw what the score was.
“We knew we could hit (Denver starting pitcher Jayden Wolter). She had the speed we like. It took a few innings to get going and it helped that they made some mistakes but good teams capitalize on the miscues.”
AGWSR will face No. 11 Jesup in the opening round of the state softball tournament at Harlans Rogers Park in Fort Dodge at 3:30 p.m. Monday. The Cougars have beaten Jesup (28-12) twice this year, winning 4-0 and 11-0. Ashley Sicard allowed a total of four hits in those victories.
Cougar senior Ella Frazier didn’t waste any time putting her team in front of Denver on Monday. Frazier initially grounded out to the pitcher in the first inning but was given a second chance after Wolter was called for an illegal pitch.
Then on the very next toss from the Cyclone freshman, Frazier put the Cougars up 1-0 with a home run to left field that was just out of the reach of the Cyclone outfielder.
“We wanted to attack the whole time,” said Frazier, who has two home runs on the season. “We got really good reports about their pitcher, and we faced similar players this year. We felt prepared, were patient and just hit strikes.”
Marissa Horner’s RBI single in the second put the Cougars up 2-0 and then both Horner and Frazier pitched in another RBI hit in the five-run third inning. AGWSR scored five runs on five hits and one error in the frame and led 7-0 after three at-bats.
That was plenty of run support for the sophomore Sicard, who came into the game with a 0.73 earned run average. She allowed just two hits, walked one and struck out 10 in improving to 27-4 on the season.
“When it got to 7-0, I just thought there is no way they are scoring seven on Ashley,” O’Brien said. “I could see where they could get a two- to three-run inning, but seven just didn’t seem possible tonight. I was pretty comfortable once that seven got up there. It was going to have to take some crazy things to happen for them to overcome that.”
Drake had a different take.
“We wanted to get ahead and put pressure on them,” she said. “But we wanted to keep putting pressure on them even with the lead. They have some good hitters. We really had to stay focused and keep scoring.”
Horner made sure the Cougars plated at least one more run in the fifth as her run-scoring double brought home Madison Fryslie, who singled to lead-off the inning. Horner reached base in all four plate appearances, finishing 3-for-3 with three RBIs and a HBP in the victory.
Horner was shaken up after getting hit by a pitch in the seventh but was too overwhelmed after the game to feel any effects of the potential injury.
“I don’t even notice right now. This is too overwhelming,” Horner said. “It feels great. We broke our school record for wins tonight and got to state. It is amazing, and I couldn’t have asked to be a part of a better team.”
Denver, which upset BCLUW in the regional finals last year on its way to the state tournament, came into the game with 11 wins in its last 12 games and an upset of No. 7 Sumner-Fredericksburg in the regional semifinals.
The Cyclones had no answer for Sicard on Monday though. They reached on an error in the first, put two on in the third by way of another error and a Sicard walk and began the fifth by reaching on the Cougars’ third and final error of the game.
Lexi Roeding’s hard-hit double to right field in the fifth was Denver’s first hit of the game. The Cyclones’ lone senior, Taylor Siech, also had an infield single in the sixth, but all six base runners were stranded on the base paths.
“They set goals to be conference champs, for number of wins and for a state appearance and have reached all of their goals,” Drake said of the Cougars. “It’s about them tonight. They wanted this and knew we would have a chance to get there. The way Ashley pitches, we knew it was a realistic goal. It is tough to hit a pitcher like that, and our defense is great behind her.”
Horner and Olivia Ingledue both had three hits to lead the AGWSR offense, while Frazier, Fryslie and Morgan Rose each collected two hits. Horner had three RBIs, and Frazier knocked in two runs in the victory.
“I have worked so hard with Ashley this summer and in fall ball,” Frazier, the Cougars’ catcher, said. “I have been playing for five years, and I am so happy to be at state my senior year. It feels amazing.”
Both Drake and O’Brien were confident AGWSR could score runs against Wolter, Denver’s freshman pitcher. But neither expected the final outcome.
“We did know they had some youth at some certain places and we were able to move the ball around and put pressure on the defense” O’Brien said. “We knew we could get some runs but you never expect a 12-0 score.”
Drake said before the game that they knew about Wolter’s illegal pitch and were hoping the umpires would see it. “It is what it is. You take advantage of stuff like when you can, and Ella took advantage of it,” Drake said. “These umpires know what they are doing. They are very good umpires. We gave them an inkling that it may have happened before, but I don’t think that play had any effect on the game.” O’Brien coached the AGWSR softball program from 1999-2009 before coaching baseball for three years. After retiring, he came back this year and is co-head coach with Drake, who served as O’Brien’s assistant for eight of those first 10 years in the softball program. The AGWSR-Jesup winner will take on the Iowa City Regina-Treynor winner in the championship bracket at 1 p.m. Thursday. The two losers will play in the consolation bracket at 10 a.m. Wednesday.