Collide and conquer

FORT DODGE – AGWSR’s softball team knew it may not get too many chances to score against Marquette Catholic of Bellevue’s Gabby Tath. But when an opportunity presented itself, co-coach Scott O’Brien said it was important the Cougars take advantage.

The game played true to form Tuesday in the quarterfinal round of the Class 1A Iowa Girls State Softball Tournament as AGWSR and Marquette Catholic combined for nine total hits, but the Cougars took advantage of a couple Mohawk miscues during a 2-0 victory at Rogers Sports Complex.

Cougar junior Ashley Sicard allowed just one hit through the first six innings before pitching around a jam in the seventh inning. She also plated one of the two AGWSR runs with a sacrifice fly to center field during a two-run third inning as the fourth-ranked Cougars advanced to a second consecutive state semifinal.

AGWSR lost 1-0 to Treynor in last year’s Class 2A semifinal but will get a chance to write a different script when it takes on unranked Kee of Lansing at 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

“We needed to be on our ‘A’ game and if that wasn’t our ‘A’ game then it was an ‘A-,'” said O’Brien. “I thought the girls held their poise well under extremely pressured situations.

“We showed our experience and poise. We have a lot of juniors and seniors out there and they played like it today. That is what we need out of that group.”

AGWSR plated both of its runs in the third inning. Maddie Young reached after an errant throw on a bunt attempt and then went to second on Madison Fryslie’s sacrifice bunt. Olivia Ingledue moved Young up a base with a single and Sicard put the Cougars on the board with a sacrifice fly to center field that almost left the yard.

Ingledue then got caught leading too far off third base later in the inning. Instead of trying to retreat to the bag, the Cougar senior took off for home. The throw to the plate ricocheted off Ingledue’s shoulder, knocked her off balance and sent her crashing into Marquette Catholic catcher Bella Berthel. Ingledue was called safe on the play and that gave the Cougars a 2-0 advantage.

“I knew I had gotten off too far so there was no going back,” said Ingledue, who had a hit and scored a run in the win. “Then I ran the other way and got hit with the ball and my momentum was already going forward so I just dove into her. I could have tried to slide under her but when the ball hit me it threw me off balance.”

Marquette coach Melissa Sturm argued to the officials that the collision by Ingledue was malicious, but O’Brien and AGWSR co-coach Brenda Drake saw things differently.

“She wanted to slide, but then (Berthel) came up the line and she had no place to go,” said Drake. “You can’t block the plate like that. You can’t be up the line before the ball is there. We were called on that same play earlier this year.”

That wouldn’t be the only controversial play in the game though.

In the fifth inning, Justine Kalmes reached on an error with one out. Caroline Herrig, who collected the Mohawks’ first hit with a double in the third, was in the middle of a close call on a 3-2 pitch from Sicard. The homeplate umpire called ball four on a check swing and awarded Herrig first base. O’Brien though asked for an appeal and one of the base umpires called Herrig out swinging, which forced Kalmes to return to first base.

It could have been argued that the play was not dead and Kalmes could have stolen second base but because the homeplate umpire called Herrig to first base, the play was considered over.

“He called her to first and when you do that, they have to come back. There were some strange things in this game though for sure,” said Drake.

Sicard allowed just one hit through six innings. She pitched around a lead-off double by Herrig in the third and walked Berthel in the fourth.

Blake Banowetz led off the top of the seventh inning with a triple but was erased on the bases when Young, the Cougar second basemen, snatched a line drive by Berthel and doubled (Banowetz) off the base at third. It was a close play that could have gone either way, but it was another break that went to the Cougars.

“That double play really helped us,” said Sicard, who improved to 28-5 on the year. “I knew if they scored one we were still OK. I just needed to make sure we kept the lead.”

Tath and Kalmes had back-to-back two-out singles to give the No. 11 Mohawks another scoring threat, but a hard line drive to Ingledue in center field ended the game.

“I was just thinking if I catch the ball, we are done and we move on,” said Ingledue of hauling in the last out of the game. “I wish we wouldn’t rely on (Sicard) as much as we do sometimes. We didn’t execute the bats as well as we needed to, especially when we needed to get bunts down. I am glad we got the two runs though and I am glad we have Ashley on our team.”

Tath was the tough-luck loser for the Mohawks (34-7) as both of the runs she allowed were unearned. Fryslie finished with two hits on the night, while Megan Marlette and Morgan Rose each had one hit. Tath fanned four and walked none in the loss.

Sicard allowed four hits, one walk and had four strikeouts in the victory.

Grabbing an early lead was key in the Cougar win, but O’Brien never felt comfortable until the final out was recorded.

“It was huge to get off to a good start. In a game like this, with two excellent pitchers, you might only get one inning, so you better take advantage of it,” said O’Brien. “We found a way to get two runs home and that turned out to be the difference in the game.”

Next up for the fourth-ranked Cougars is an unranked Kee Hawks team that upset second-ranked Lynnville-Sully, 4-0. The favored Hawks came into the tournament with a 34-1 record but managed just five hits off Kee starter Kendra Cooper.

The Cougars and Hawks (33-8) kick off the 1A semifinals at 11:30 a.m. and top-ranked Akron-Westfield (36-0) and sixth-ranked Martensdale-St. Marys (26-4) will play in the other semifinal at 1:30 p.m.

“We’re trying to do better than last year, so we want to get first or second,” said Sicard. “But we are trying to have fun, too. We are playing our hardest and hopefully we can go all the way to gold.”

Notebook

Akron-Westfield won its 51st straight game Tuesday in a 5-1 win over unranked Glidden-Ralston, which was making its first-ever trip to the state tournament. Martensdale-St. Marys also edged Wayne, 6-5, after scoring the game-winning run on a squeeze bunt in the bottom of the seventh inning. … Kee is in the state tournament for just the second time in school history and the first since 2002. The Hawks are led by Cooper, an eighth-grader who is 21-4 in the circle and hitting .493 with 47 RBIs at the plate.