Battery powers Mustangs past STC

LE GRAND – The best South Tama County could hope to do was to limit East Marshall’s offense.

And even if they could have pulled off that minor miracle, the Trojans’ own bats would have had to solve the mystery that has been Mariah Fritz.

East Marshall’s junior hurler improved to 23-1 this season with her 11th shutout of the summer, allowing just two hits in the second-ranked Mustangs’ 10-0, five-inning victory in Tuesday’s Class 3A Region 4 quarterfinal.

Ashley Allen backed her batterymate with her fifth home run in the last two and a half weeks, and East Marshall (30-3) erased an NICL West Division foe with ease for its 25th consecutive win.

“Our chance was limiting their offense,” said STC head coach Chelsea Ahrens. “We made some adjustments on defense. … But we still had to score runs. We had some confidence against Fritz from last year, but she has improved so much. We haven’t really touched her much (this year).”

Fritz did not allow a baserunner until a dropped fly ball put Kallie Hala on base with two outs in the top of the third. Trisha Walz broke up the no-hitter with her one-out single in the fifth, and Catie Collins added another base hit to put runners on the corners for the Trojans (12-18).

But Fritz got a flyout for the final out, advancing East Marshall one step closer to its third straight trip to the state tournament.

Fritz finished with seven strikeouts and no walks, working her rise ball to perfection. She also led off the bottom of the first inning with a double, sparking a six-run eruption to get the Mustangs in the groove offensively against Sam Holtz (8-10).

Haley Long drove in courtesy runner Mackenzie Andrews with a bases-loaded single, and Kylee Hoskey and Maci Fritz had back-to-back walks to plate two more. Sophia Grego flared an RBI single into shallow right field to make it 4-0, and Madisen Hinegardner also was walked to force in another run.

In her second at-bat of the inning, Mariah Fritz plated her little sister Maci for the sixth run of the inning.

South Tama refused to relent, but the win was already in hand for the Mustangs.

Hoskey’s RBI single in the second to make it 7-0, and Allen’s two-run blast with two out in the third made it 9-0.

Allen credited clean-up hitter Taylor Fricke batting behind her for her recent breakout in power. Her line drive over the fence in left-center field was her seventh home run of the season.

“With Taylor batting behind me, I usually see strikes early (in the count) and then a lot of junk after that,” said Allen, a junior catcher.

Fricke, who had been walked in her previous three plate appearances, came up with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the fifth. South Tama was finally forced to pitch to the NICL West’s second-leading home run hitter, and Fricke delivered the game-ending run with a sacrifice fly to left.

“Up and down East Marshall’s lineup, there’s no weak spots. We knew that,” Ahrens said. “It’s unfortunate we had to play them in the first round, but we wish them the best.

“The difference between last year and this year is Mariah. Their hitting is strong still, but we were fortunate to get a couple hits.”

All 10 Mustang runs came earned to Holtz, who walked five and struck out one. East Marshall’s offense tallied 11 hits and South Tama was not ticketed for any errors.

“When Fritty (Mariah Fritz) is on, our defense is better and I think our offense is better too,” said Mustangs head coach Jary Hoskey. “Mariah is one of the premier pitchers in Iowa. Her riseball and her changeup are a pretty good combination, especially when she’s hitting her spots.”

Mariah Fritz retired Holtz twice with third-strike changeups, getting STC’s leading home run hitter off balance. The rest of South Tama’s lineup had a hard enough time catching up to the fastball or getting on top of the riseball. Seven of the Trojans’ eight in-play outs were fly balls.

“South Tama’s a good team that could come up behind you, like any team could,” said Fritz. “But I feel like if we show up to play East Marshall softball, it would take a real good team to beat us.”

Mariah Fritz finished 3-for-4 with an RBI, and Andrews scored twice running in her place. Allen was 2-for-4 with a two-run homer, and her courtesy runner Shae Fetters also scored a run. Long was 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored, while Bobbi Amendt, Hoskey, Grego and Hinegardner each added singles.

The Mustangs move on to host Waterloo Columbus (33-6) in Friday’s 7 p.m. regional semifinal in Le Grand. The Sailors edged Union Community, 3-2, in their quarterfinal Tuesday in Waterloo, and are the highest scoring team in Class 3A. East Marshall and top-ranked Benton Community stand second and third in that category.

“If you can beat us, you’ve got to beat Mariah,” Coach Hoskey said. “She’s kind of the cog. And we’ve got power in the middle, speed at the top and speed at the bottom. We might be a hard pill to swallow on the tournament trail.”