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SOLON– That first game was a close one.
Solon’s Lady Spartans survived a scare from Mount Vernon in the regional quarterfinal, then ran over Northeast Goose Lake and Independence on the way to a berth in the Class 3A state softball tournament.
Solon defeated Independence 10-0 Monday night in five innings, closing it out with a bases-loaded, run-scoring single by pinch hitter Shelby Gunnells.
Mel Breza and Emma Rickels had both reached on Indee errors in the bottom of the fifth inning, and Casey Musgrave had drawn a walk in between.
With Solon already leading 8-0, Gunnells came to the plate. A passed ball brought home Breza, and Gunnells battled off some pitches before rapping a single to left, scoring Musgrave.
Game over.
The Lady Spartans had been pounding the ball all night, with both Arran Weeces and Kara Misel blasting two-run home runs. Emma Rickels doubled and scored on Weeces’ shot. Alyssa Rickels tripled and scored on a Taylor Nearad double. Nearad was on base when Misel went yard.
Independence was held without a hit by Weeces, although she walked the bases loaded in the second inning before striking out two batters to escape.
The win sends the Lady Spartans back to Ft. Dodge for the second year in a row under second-year head coach Ben Sorden. Solon was winless in the 2011 tournament, but the team has been ranked No. 1 in Class 3A the entire 2012 season and has yet to lose a game to a Class 3A team.
Solon had been out of the tournament since a loss to North Polk in the 2A championship game in 2008; the Lady Spartans were champs the year before.
The 2012 softball tournament will be held Monday, July 16, through Friday July 20, with the 3A championship scheduled for 2:30 p.m. the final day.
But before the trip to Ft. Dodge could be booked, the Lady Spartans had to experience a heart attack against Mount Vernon and a recovery period with Northeast Goose Lake.
Solon faced Mount Vernon in the regional quarterfinal and took a 4-0 lead into the seventh inning on the strength of Arran Weeces’ pitching, some timely hitting and a host of Mustang errors.
But that all came crashing down in the top of the seventh when Mount Vernon’s Miranda Chapman whacked a two-out, three-run home run off Solon pitcher Weeces to tie the game.
The Mustangs moved out in front in the ninth inning, scoring two runs for a 6-4 lead. The Lady Spartans were down to their last three outs.
Rylee Smith gave the team some life with a one-out single, and Emily Bransky reached with a bunt single.
With two outs, Smith was on third and Bransky on second, and it all came down to freshman Taylor Nearad, whose single brought both runners home to tie it back up.
Still with two outs, Kara Misel singled, Mel Breza was intentionally walked and Ali Herdliska came to the plate with the bases loaded. Herdliska drew a walk, forcing in the winning run for 7-6 final score.
“When they tied it in the seventh, I knew we had at least two more at bats than them to get it done and was confident we could scratch a run across the plate,” commented coach Sorden. “We had runners in scoring position in both the seventh and eighth inning, which I felt gave us confidence as we continued to put ourselves in a position to win; these kids just won’t quit.
“When Smith and Emily Bransky were both on I had a feeling we were going to win as Nearad, Misel and Breza were due up and I figured they were going to put the ball in play,” he continued. “Obviously when you play Mount Vernon or any school you have a rivalry with, there is a lot of emotion at play.  You have to give Coach Brand and her team credit; they came in here with nothing to lose and played with a lot of heart. I’m just glad we came out on top and it was a valuable lesson for our team.”
It was a lesson the Lady Spartans quickly put to use, eliminating Northeast Goose Lake 11-1 in five innings Friday night, July 6.
Solon tacked up runs in each of the first four innings, powered by Nearad’s three RBIs and Misel’s 3-3 performance with a double and a home run. Casey Musgrave was also 2-2 with two RBIs.