Blackford hurls, hits MHS past Ames 4-3

Angie Lovell may have found the right combination she’s been looking for all season.

Unfortunately her Bobcats didn’t get a second chance to try it out Monday.

Cassidy Blackford capped a four-run flurry with a two-run shot in the fifth inning and went the distance in the circle as the Marshalltown softball team held off Ames 4-3 in a Central Iowa Conference Northern Division game at the MHS diamond. The second game was postponed due to adverse weather and will be made up at a later date.

Lovell has tinkered with her defensive lineup several times this year but may have found the right formula against the Little Cyclones.

“I switched some things up with Kari (Smith) and Tabby (Steffensen),” Lovell said. “Getting in a different spot and giving them a fresh start somewhere else helps with that mental approach. They’ve both done a good job.”

Kaley Mead and Haley Vajgrt rounded out the infield at third and first respectively, while Maggie Carnahan caught for Blackford. The win capped a three-game skid and boosted Marshalltown (3-12, 2-1) above .500 in the conference.

Steffensen legged out a single to spark the Bobcats’ four-run fifth and Smith followed with a bunt that led to an error on an overthrow at first. Steffensen scored on the play and Smith advanced to third before Mead’s bloop single bounced just in front of Little Cyclones’ right fielder Hannah Kutchen to put Marshalltown in front 2-1.

Blackford followed with a smash to right center – the Bobcats’ first homer of the season – to stretch the lead to 4-1, though the cushion nearly evaporated in the seventh.

“We still have that one inning where we still get a little nervous,” Lovell said. “We get two strikes and we’re ahead in the count and they end up getting on (base) – but we’re getting there. We know we have it in us, which is huge.”

Hannah Bloch cut the deficit to two with an RBI single to left in the sixth. Kutchen laced a single up the middle in the seventh to bring the Little Cyclones (7-7, 2-1) within 4-3 with runners at first and second.

Blackford (1-5), who recorded the first two outs of the frame by strikeout, closed the game by snaring Maddie Lynch’s pop-up to secure her first win from the circle.

Marshalltown’s defense made the routine plays it needed and didn’t commit a single error after coming in with 44 on the year.

“That’s the way it’s supposed to happen,” Lovell said. “They did a nice job and they’re getting more comfortable, too.

“The record doesn’t indicate it, but we’ve had some close games with some very good teams in our conference. We know we can do it, we just can’t have those bad innings.”

MHS avoided a potential big inning in the first when Kate Crow led off with a single and advanced to third on a couple passed balls, while Kutchen drew a walk and stole second.

Blackford caught Lynch’s pop fly and struck out Bloch, before Crow scored off a passed ball. MHS limited the damage by inducing Taylor Schumacher to ground out.

Blackford retired 12 of the next 13 batters including 1-2-3 innings in the second, third and fifth. She scattered six hits over seven innings and allowed just one earned run in a complete-game effort. The junior struck out seven and walked three.

“She pitched a great game, she hit her spots,” Lovell said. “The defense was actually behind her tonight and we need that for all of our pitchers.”

Blackford also led the offense going 2-for-3 with 2 RBIs and a run scored, while Mead hit 2-for-2 with an RBI and a walk. Carnahan and McKaylee Palmer each doubled, while Leah Paustian and Steffensen also had hits for MHS.

Schumacher (4-3) was saddled with the loss giving up four runs (three earned) on eight hits in six innings. She struck out eight and walked one.

While the Bobcats have hinted at turning the corner before, Monday’s victory proved the necessary pieces are there. Now it’s a matter of fitting them all together.

“We have it in us, we just have to put it all together,” Lovell said.

“That one piece of the puzzle has to be there in order for us to get over the hump.”

Notebook

Pinch runner Morgan Finch scored on Blackford’s homer. … Ames stranded six runners on the base paths while the Bobcats left on nine. … Marshalltown hosts Class 5A No. 2 West Des Moines Valley on Wednesday in a CIC North doubleheader starting at 6 p.m.