SULLY — Settling under the ball in center field, Lynnville-Sully sophomore Megan Van Zante squeezed the ball into her glove setting off the Hawks’ celebration. After three years of not even playing for a Class 1A regional championship, the Hawks were the 1A Region 5 champions.
Claiming an 8-3 win over North Mahaska’s Warhawks, who had beaten the Hawks in a 2017 regional semifinal, Lynnville-Sully secured a berth in the 2019 Iowa High School Girls’ Class 1A Softball State Tournament.
“Oh, my gosh, I was freaking out when that last fly ball was in the air,” Hawk senior right fielder Kaylee Maasdam said. “I’ve been thinking about this since the season started.”
The work the Hawks put into a 23-8 regular season to earn the final No. 7 ranking helped put Lynnville-Sully in a great spot for regional play. The Hawks played all three of their regional games on their home field.
Lynnville-Sully rallied from behind each game to win. In the quarterfinal, it was a 4-3 walk-off win over Lone Tree.
The Hawks fell behind 3-0 to BGM in Friday’s semifinal. They came back to win 10-7.
“We knew North Mahaska would hit the ball and they came out swinging tonight,” Lynnville-Sully head coach Stacey Alberts said. “We had to throw some off-speed pitches to keep them off balance and we made some defensive plays to keep them from scoring.”
The Warhawks led Class 1A with 24 home runs this season. The Hawks kept the ball in the park all night.
On Monday, the Warhawks broke a 2-2 tie with a run in the top of the fourth. Down 3-2, the Hawks struck for five runs.
It was started by sophomore Caitlin Alberts with a one-out double. Junior Janelle Rozendaal’s single had Caitlin Alberts on the go as Hawk head coach Stacey Alberts waved her home.
Caitlin Alberts’ slide got under the attempted tag of North Mahaska catcher Paige Layman who couldn’t hold onto the ball.
“All week we’d been working on inside-outside because we knew she was going to move the ball well,” Caitlin Alberts said. “I was making sure I connected to get something started.”
Caitlin Alberts hadn’t had a hit in the postseason until the double. She said her mindset was “if I hit, I’m running and get what I can get out of it.”
North Mahaska starting pitcher Madison McKay had held Lynnville-Sully hitless until the fourth. Sophomore Laci Keen kept it going for the Hawks with an RBI base hit to right field.
Junior Kaleah Ehresman went in as a courtesy runner, stole second and ended up at third on a Warhawk error. Van Zante and senior Carson Fisk had back-to-back singles to drive in a run apiece.
That chased McKay out of the circle with senior Emma Deucore taking over the pitching duties. Lynnville-Sullyjunior Mallory Loftus reached on an error and Fisk scored.
“There’s nothing but positivity in the dugout,” Fisk said. “I trust Stacey (Alberts) to the fullest.”
“Trusting in each other and our coaches,” senior Shiloh Cunningham said about working back to get the lead and finish the game with a win.
When the dust settled with the final out of fourth inning, Lynnville-Sully held a 7-3 lead. The Hawks tacked on a run in the fifth.
Sophomore Korinne Jansen doubled, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Caitlin Alberts and scored on a sacrifice fly by Rozendaal.
“We had seen both of their pitchers this season. It just came down to who got the timely hits and take advantage of some mistakes,” Coach Alberts said. “We also took advantage of our hits — being aggressive on the bases and doing what we do.”
Coach Alberts said sometimes it just takes one person to rip the bandaide off and get the bleeding started, so to speak. She said Caitlin Alberts has had good at-bats for several games in a row and was good to see her make the connection.
Sophomore pitcher Denali Conover and the Hawks worked around a baserunner in the sixth. North Mahaska left a bunch of baserunners on throughout the game as the Warhawks had 12 hits.
Conover (23-6) and her defense got out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the second after giving up the tying run, 2-2. North Mahaska had two on and no outs in the third and didn’t score.
The Warhawks had plated a run in the first inning. Lynnville-Sully did what the Hawks do in their half of the first — use small ball.
With one gone, Fisk drew a walk and stole second base. Loftus put down a bunt and reached on an error. Fisk scored and Loftus took second on the play.
Cunningham’s bunt died just inches from the plate in fair territory. The throw to first was off and Loftus scored.
Lynnville-Sully was up 2-1 when North Mahaska scored in the second. The Warhawks had three singles to produce the go-ahead run, 3-2, in the top of the fourth.
Once the Hawks re-gained the lead, they were able to turn away the Warhawks. They retired North Mahaska in order in the seventh to end the game.
“Each year it gets harder and we hadn’t played for a regional title before tonight,” Fisk said. “To be playing in this game and look up at the 8-3 score and know we won, is tremendous.”
Jansen and Caitlin Alberts each had a double among Lynnville-Sully's six hits. Hitting a single each were Fisk, Rozendaal, Keen and Van Zante. Loftus had three stolen bases.
Ehreshman and sophomore Cayler Noun Harder each scored a run as courtesy runners. Rozendaal had two RBIs while Fisk and Keen each had one RBI each.
Conover issued one walk and struck out two in her complete game in the circle.
"It feels really good to get this group to state. There's been a lot of hard work and great support," Coach Alberts said about getting back to the state tournament. "With Scott (Alberts, her husband) moving over to the baseball program, he is still a big apart of this. It's really great to be going to Fort Dodge to compete next week."
Lynnville-Sully (26-8) plays Newell-Fonda (37-5) at 11:30 a.m. Monday in the first round of the 1A state tournament in Fort Dodge.