Round 3: Mustangs reunite with Mid-Prairie
LE GRAND – The numbers reveal only so much.
The rest is determined on the diamond.
Headed back to the Iowa Girls State Softball Tournament for the third year in a row, coach Jary Hoskey and the East Marshall softball team know this truth as well as any.
And while the Class 3A No. 2 Mustangs open the tournament as the top seed against unranked Mid-Prairie, they’re not taking their opponent lightly.
“(Mid-Prairie) is probably one of the better teams out of the eight,” Hoskey said. “They play in an awful tough conference. We will need to be on our ‘A’ game and get good pitching, not make any errors and get some timely hits to be successful. They’re a quality, well-coached opponent and we’re just going to have to play our best to be in the game.”
While the Golden Hawks sport a 25-10 record, they enter Fort Dodge on a nine-game win streak including their regional final victory over top-ranked Benton.
East Marshall and Mid-Prairie open the Class 3A portion of the tourney Monday at 11 a.m. with the winner advancing to Thursday’s semifinal against either No. 9 Bondurant-Farrar (20-13) or 13th-ranked West Burlington-Notre Dame (23-12).
Other 3A match ups include No. 3 Clarke (24-8) vs. Spirit Lake (23-8) and Center Point-Urbana (28-9) vs. Greene County (27-7). The championship is set for Friday at 2:30 p.m.
The Mustangs are coming off an 0-3 finish at Rogers Sports Complex last season, but aren’t lowering expectations as they look to redeem themselves in their fifth trip in school history.
“Last year we just weren’t all into it, but this year we’re going to be more serious because we have a chance to win the whole thing,” senior Haley Long said.
Long is one of seven starters back from last year’s squad which lost seniors Katie and Callie Roseland along with Paige Miller. Hoskey has successfully plugged in players at five new positions this season giving this club a fresh look even though much of the same personnel is intact. Maci Fritz has taken over at third for Taylor Fricke, who migrated to shortstop allowing Ashley Allen to work behind the plate. Freshman Bobbi Amendt has filled in at center field and Haley Fye has transitioned to right.
“We’d had to juggle the pieces a bit but it looks like we’ve done a pretty good job of putting people where they need to be,” Hoskey said. “We’ve added some more speed to our squad and we have some kids from last year that have matured from sophomores to juniors. They’re hitting the ball better and hitting with a little more power. … All in all the girls have really bought in to what we do and hopefully things will be changed from last year.”
The two teams have met in the past two state tournaments with Mid-Prairie defeating the Mustangs 8-3 in a consolation semifinal last July, while East Marshall topped the Golden Hawks 3-0 in the fifth-place game in 2012.
Allen and Fricke both have eight home runs on the season with Fricke driving in a team-best 43 runs and Allen bringing in 40. Mid-Prairie, making its fourth straight trek to the tourney, answers with its own power tandem of Amber Kral (10 HR, 55 RBIs, .574 BA) and Taylor Kurtz (10 HR, 38 RBIs). Kurtz leads the River Valley Conference South champions in the circle with a 16-4 record, 2.55 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 140 innings.
Mustang junior Mariah Fritz has been one of the most dynamic hurlers in the circle in 3A boasting a 25-1 record, a 1.03 ERA and 221 strikeouts in 163 2/3 innings. She has won 25 straight decisions and is backed by Long, one of two East Marshall seniors, with a 7-2 mark, 2.21 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 44 1/3 frames.
Fellow senior Sophia Grego returned from left quad and IT band injuries for the last two weeks of the season and is eager to make an impact in her final games as a Mustang.
“Since this is my last year I want to go out with a bang,” said Grego, the team’s designated player. “Last year I wasn’t as prepared for it as I am now. I’m ready to go out there and help us do better.”
While the North Iowa Cedar League West champions carry high expectations as the top seed, Hoskey wants his squad to embrace the moment.
“The first thing is to have fun – play loosey-goosey, enjoy and embellish,” Hoskey said. “Ten years from now they’ll look back and say, ‘Wow, I was on a team that went to the state tournament three years in a row.’ Winning is fun but getting there and having the camaraderie and cohesiveness that we have here at East Marshall is a big part of it. These girls have great support from their fans and community and are ready to make memories they’ll never forget.”
There will be a community send-off for the East Marshall softball team today at 2 p.m. at the high school in Le Grand. The Mustangs will get a police escort out of town with fire trucks from Le Grand, Gilman, Laurel and Ferguson joining in. … Mid-Prairie has five wins over teams listed in the final rankings including Class 2A No. 7 Durant (twice), 2A No. 14 North Cedar, 3A No. 1 Benton and 4A No. 14 Keokuk. Three of its losses came against 4A No. 3 Solon, 4A No. 4 Carlisle and 5A’s previously ranked Cedar Rapids Prairie. … Monday’s loser will play Tuesday at 9 a.m. in a consolation semifinal against either Bondurant-Farrar or West Burlington-Notre Dame. The consolation final is Wednesday at noon.