Lady Spartans overpower Clippers 15-4
FORT DODGE– Solon head coach Jim White really wanted that first run.
In the top of the first inning, the Lady Spartans came up with three clutch two-out singles to score first against Clear Creek Amana (CCA) in a 4A quarterfinal at the state softball tournament in Fort Dodge Monday.
A year ago, Solon had been ranked No. 3 and came into the state tournament with only two losses, but the unranked Washington Demons jumped out to a 3-0 lead and the Lady Spartans didn’t recover.
This time, against a familiar foe in the CCA Clippers, it was another story.
Solon hammered CCA pitcher Lexi Kinnaird for a tournament record 21 hits and advanced to a Thursday semifinal against Carlisle with a 15-4 win.
“It was a long game, but we survived,” White said after the game. Obviously, with all the things involved we knew that they would have the momentum to start with and we would have to fight through that. It was nice to get that run in the first. I was really worried that if they (CCA) got on top early, it would just snowball.”
The Clippers would have their opportunities to make the Spartan fan base a little uneasy, including a bases-loaded situation in the bottom of the first.
Solon pitcher Emily Ira struck out Mallory Neubauer with three pitches, but CCA’s Lauren Stopko singled, Molly Villhauer walked and Eden Campbell reached on an error to load the bases, prompting a visit to the mound by White.
“I just said, no big deal, just relax and do your stuff,” he reported.
Ira proceeded to force Lexi Kinnaird into a pop up and Grace Murray struck out looking to end the CCA threat.
The Lady Spartans broke out for four runs in the third inning and five in the sixth, and their defense was good enough to keep the pesky Clippers at a distance while dealing with the warmest temperatures of the season.
Sydney Lawson started off the third with a double and scored on Taylor Nearad’s subsequent single to give Solon a 2-0 lead. The Lady Spartans were aggressive at the plate and on the bases, with Nearad taking second on the throw and advancing to third on a wild pitch. Ira scored Nearad on a fielder’s choice. Ira had four RBI and Nearad scored four times.
Tara Lance, pinch running for Ira, advanced to second on another wild pitch from CCA’s Lexi Kinnaird, and back-to-back doubles from Riley Ogden and Monika Bevans gave the Spartans a 5-0 lead.
The Clippers, however, were resilient.
The second time through the rotation, Neubauer unloaded a solo home run to deep center to put the Clippers on the board and give the CCA fans a swing in the momentum.
Ira retired the next three batters, including a long foul ball to deep left off Lexi Kinnaird’s bat that Ogden would collect right in front of the fence. Over the next several innings, the Clipper bats would come to life.
And Solon’s would stay hot as well
In the top half of the fourth inning, Lawson singled, stole second and advanced to third on a ground ball, and Ali Herdliska then unleashed a home run of her own to center field, giving the Lady Spartans a 7-1 lead.
In normal circumstances, that would seem to be a pretty comfortable lead. But the oppressive weather was having an impact.
Ira came into the game with a 21-1 record, having allowed only eight earned runs all season and holding opponents’ batting average to a measly .113. The Clippers ended up with nine hits in 32 at-bats, and Ira was charged with three earned runs.
But with runners on first and third in the bottom of the fourth with only one out, Ira struck out Hannah Mougin and Neubauer to retire the side.
The Clippers would add two runs in the bottom of the fifth, when Megan Beckler and Abbi Kinnaird, running for Lexi Kinnaird and Molly Villhauer, came home after Grace Murray’s deep fly ball landed on the ground between two colliding Lady Spartans.
Solon made good on the error in the top of the sixth, pushing five runs across and taking a commanding 13-3 lead. Lawson doubled, followed by singles from Herdliska, Ira, Ogden and Bevans, with a double by Holly Hinkel tacked on the end.
CCA added a run in the bottom of the sixth and Solon scored twice in the seventh for the 15-4 final score.
Kinnaird took the loss for the Clippers, who fall to the consolation bracket and were scheduled to face Oskaloosa Wednesday, July 23.
“She’s an excellent pitcher,” White said of the CCA ace, who was charged with all 15 Solon runs. “I think that humidity hurt her, and it hurt us, too. Both of them (Kinnaird and Ira) have been lights out all year.”
The 21 Solon hits was a new state tournament record for an individual game in all classes, surpassing the 19 West Des Moines Dowling put up against Ottumwa in 1992.
Nearad, Herdliska, Ira, Lawson, Ogden, Bevans and Jess Heick each had multiple-hit games. Bevans accounted for three RBI.
The Lady Spartans move on to face No. 4 Carlisle in a semifinal Thursday, July 24, at 5 p.m. at Harlan Rogers Park north of Fort Dodge. The 4A championship will be played Friday, July 25, at 4:45 p.m.