Rockets chase Comets from Class 2A bid

COLFAX – Befitting of a battle between Comets and Rockets, Nataliah Hopkins’ performance was out of this world.

The Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont senior pitcher had an astronomical night, going 4-for-4 with two home runs and six RBIs while keeping BCLUW’s small-ball offense bottled up for a 10-2 victory in Monday’s Class 2A Region 6 softball final.

The fifth-ranked Rockets (24-5) will make their first state tournament appearance since 1999 while denying No. 12 BCLUW its first berth since back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010. It’s the Comets’ second regional finals defeat in the last three seasons, and Hopkins was at the center of it all.

Her first home run of the season set the tone in the top of the first inning, and her two-run shot staked E-B-F to a 5-0 lead in the third. Hopkins’ third hit of the night, a single in the fourth, chased BCLUW sophomore hurler Olivia Callaway from the circle.

The Comets (24-10) scratched out single runs in the third and fifth innings, but missed opportunities kept BCLUW from giving E-B-F its best shot.

“I told them it wasn’t our night,” BCLUW coach Casey Moberly said of her postgame conversation with the team. “Things fell for (E-B-F) that didn’t fall for us. They’re not that much better of a team than us, not 10-2 better, but tonight just wasn’t in the cards for us.”

The Comets failed to capitalize with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the second, and Hopkins made it hurt a half inning later.

“I’ve never had a game like that offensively,” said Hopkins. “It’s been my goal to go to state since I started playing varsity in eighth grade, so it’s a great feeling to be able to achieve that goal.”

A career .358 hitter, Hopkins homered twice her sophomore year but not again until Monday’s state-qualifier contest at Colfax-Mingo High School.

“It feels amazing,” she added. “It means so much being a senior, so having that leadership and setting that example is amazing.”

Hopkins said she’d had better pitching performances this season, but with all the support she’d provided herself, BCLUW had an uphill battle from the get-go.

One-out singles for Nicolette Simpson and Sara Sharp, and a walk to Nicole Montgomery loaded the bases for the Comets in the bottom of the second, but Hopkins got a strikeout and an inning-ending groundout on a nifty fielder’s choice flip to third by shortstop Tasha Alexander.

BCLUW managed to cut into the Rockets’ five-run lead with its first tally in the third. Kendall Scurr beat out a bunt single and moved to second on Mallory Vawter’s sacrifice. Becca Steckelberg followed with a hard-hit ball back through the circle, and Scurr scored without a play. Steckelberg took second but couldn’t advance when Callaway’s single toward the left side was knocked down by Alexander.

Hopkins ended the threat with back-to-back strikeouts.

In the fifth, Vawter reached on a bunt single and scored when the Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont first baseman threw errantly behind Vawter at second. The ball rolled into left field, allowing Vawter to cross home plate.

But by that point, the Rockets had rocketed to a 10-2 lead.

“They’re a good ball club,” Moberly said, “but there were some girls on base we left out there. It just wasn’t our night.”

Callaway (12-4) got the loss for her 3 1/3 innings of work, allowing seven runs – six earned – on eight hits and three walks. She struck out five. Simpson went the final 3 2/3 frames in relief, surrendering three runs on three hits and two walks with three strikeouts.

Simpson, one of three seniors, will play at Kirkwood Community College next year. Scurr, who scored three runs as an eighth-grade courtesy runner the last time BCLUW won a state title, and first baseman Kayla Benjamin are graduates as well.

“Our seniors were dedicated, hard working, examples of character,” said Moberly. “They led very well. Especially after how last year ended, they really pushed the girls to get to this point.

“I really think we should have been more competitive than we were.”

Simpson finished 2-for-3 at the plate to lead BCLUW. Scurr, Vawter, Steckelberg and Sharp each added singles.

E-B-F leadoff batter Haegen Boyer went 2-for-4 at the plate with three runs scored, while Randie Richmond was 2-for-4 with a run. Alexander was 1-for-1, walked three times and scored thrice, while Rachel Maloy added a double.

Hopkins (23-4) allowed seven hits and one walk against six strikeouts for the win.

“Everyone said this is our year, our time, so we had high expectations all along,” said Hopkins. “We knew BCLUW was quick, their whole lineup was quick. We knew that first inning was key, if we could get them down and keep putting pressure on them.”

The Rockets will face No. 15 Alburnett (26-12) in the first round of the 2A state tournament on July 22 at Harlan Rogers Park in Fort Dodge.