STATE SOFTBALL PREVIEW: Jesup is all AGWSR has on its mind

Not even a 2-0 record against them will allow the AGSWR softball team to look past Jesup.

The Class 2A No. 8 Cougars beat No. 11 Jesup 4-0 and 11-0 earlier this year but were forced to play one last time when the matchups were announced following the regional finals on Monday night. That final game will come Monday in the Iowa Girls’ High School State Softball Tournament’s first round.

And even though sophomore starter Ashley Sicard has allowed just four hits in the first two meetings, AGWSR co-coach Scott O’Brien said Jesup still has the Cougars’ undivided attention.

“We need to take this thing one game at a time,” O’Brien said. “We’re trying to stay in the moment. We can only control Jesup, and we haven’t even talked about any other team.”

The state tournament kicks off Monday at Rogers Harlan Sports Complex in Fort Dodge and the Cougars and the J-Hawks will play at 3:30 p.m. The winner advances to a Thursday semifinal, while the loser plays two consolation games Wednesday.

Other matchups in the Class 2A portion of the tournament include: Iowa City Regina vs. No. 2 Treynor; Ridge View vs. No. 5 Fort Dodge St. Edmond; and Lawton-Bronson vs. No. 3 Durant.

“I haven’t paid attention to the rankings,” O’Brien said. “That is stuff we really can’t control. Treynor is the defending champions, and they could easily have been ranked No. 1.”

The top-ranked team in 2A will not be in Fort Dodge next week. North Union was ousted by Ridge View, and No. 4 Highland, No. 5 Woodbury Central and No. 7 Sumner-Fredericksburg also are not in the state tournament field.

The Cougars (27-7) have ridden the arm of Sicard all season. She is good enough to lead the Cougars to their first-ever state title. And the numbers speak for themselves.

Sicard comes into the state tourney at 27-4 with an earned run average of 0.71. She also has 224 strikeouts and just 34 walks in 198 innings pitched.

“We will again count on Ashley to keep us in games until the offense can get going,” O’Brien said. “She is not afraid to pitch on both sides of the plate and she has a pitch that has real good movement. That pitch is pretty tough to hit.”

Sicard will likely be opposed by Jesup’s Kelsey Lough, who is 26-10 with an ERA of 1.43 and 249 strikeouts in nearly 220 innings.

Lough, a former all-state selection, allowed 17 hits and six earned runs against AGWSR in the first two meetings.

“We had good execution and some timely hitting in the first meeting,” O’Brien said. “We were just on a roll that second game. We had a lot of big hits, a lot of extra base hits and took advantage of their mistakes.”

While the Cougars will be making their first-ever trip into the state tournament, the J-Hawks are state-tourney seasoned. That could give Jesup an advantage.

“They have been to a lot of state tourneys and are very well coached,” O’Brien said. “They will be prepared.

“Ashley is capable of controlling the game, but they know what they need to work on from those first two games, and we are the ones that have to adjust to what they may do different.”

O’Brien said the keys to finding success in Fort Dodge include playing solid defense behind Sicard, putting the ball in play to pressure the opposing defenses and taking advantage of any extra opportunities that may arise.

Waiting for the Cougars or J-Hawks in the semifinals will be either Iowa City Regina (20-19) or Treynor (28-5). Treynor is the defending champion and led by senior pitcher Madison Keysor, who has struck out 297 batters in 186 innings.

A loss in round one would put the Cougars into Wednesday’s consolation round at 10 a.m. A victory pushes AGWSR into Thursday’s 1 p.m. semifinal. The championship game will be at 12:15 p.m. Friday.

“We won’t look past Monday,” O’Brien said. “You hope things go your way up there, but we are just trying to stay focused on Jesup.”