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Solon girls punch ticket to state tournament

Late-inning heroics lift Lady Spartans in regional final
Solon junior Tara Lance slids around Center Point-Urbana catcher Taylor Henderson to put the Lady Spartans up by a run in the July 11 regional final.

SOLON– With two strikes in the count, Nichole Oberthien laid down a bunt.
The play went to the plate, where Tara Lance slid wide of the tag to give the Lady Spartans a sixth-inning 4-3 lead over Center Point-Urbana (CP-U).
In the top of the seventh, Solon added two more insurance runs, the first of which prompted Solon Head Softball Coach Jim White to leap in the air joyously and repeatedly along the third base sideline.
It was all part of the heart-pounding 2016 postseason for the third-ranked (Class 3A) Lady Spartans, who advanced to the state softball tournament in Fort Dodge with a 6-3 come-from-behind win over CP-U Monday night (July 11) in Solon.
Solon will face No. 14 Collins-Maxwell/Baxter (25-8) in the opening round of play at the 3A state tournament Tuesday, July 19, at 3 p.m. on Buena Vista Field at the Harlan Rogers Sports Complex north of Fort Dodge.
But to get there, the Lady Spartans had to dodge a lot of bullets, including a 5-2 eight-inning win over Williamsburg and a 12-9 slugfest against Roland -Story.
“This is a hard-working team– it’s not like the previous team,” White said after the game. “We have to work really hard.”
Unlike last year’s 3A championship team, which rarely struggled during a 42-3 campaign, this year’s team has battled back time and again after falling behind.
Such was the case against the Stormin’ Pointers Monday night.
CP-U touched up Solon starter McKenna Miller in the first inning and jumped out to a 3-1 lead, a margin that would stand until Solon senior Sydney Lawson swatted the first pitch of her fifth-inning at-bat into a stiff wind and over the fence in right-center.
That cut the deficit to a single run.
“It was a lift,” White said. “She’s hitting with such power right now. Into that wind, that was a shot.”
And the delicate balance in sports known as momentum seemed to tip in favor of Solon.
Miller recovered from the first inning and allowed only a one-out single in the bottom of the fourth inning, setting down the CP-U batters in order over the final three frames.
“I was really worried there in the first inning, they hit it hard,” White said. “Actually to be honest with you, I changed the way we were calling pitches there.
“I’ve played against them quite a bit, they made a nice adjustment and were trying to take away McKenna’s outside pitch, so we actually came more in and with the wind blowing in it kind of helped out a little bit,” he said.
“I thought McKenna did a great job after that first inning,” White said. “That’s a really good hitting team.”
In the sixth inning, the Lady Spartans started playing small ball and it paid off.
Sophomore Madison Rogers reached base on an error to start the inning, and another error on Lance’s bunt allowed Rogers to score the tying run, with Lance waiting at third with no outs.
Oberthien’s bunt brought Lance home, and although Oberthien was picked off at third base, Solon had the lead.
“We did a nice job of staying tough,” White said. “We didn’t panic, we just stayed with it– then we went with the short game and that kind of made the difference.”
In the top of the seventh, a Jess Heick single and a Skyler Stookey bunt brought home two more runs and the Lady Spartans had a 6-3 lead heading into CP-U’s final turn at the plate.
“I was really excited about all the runs,” White said. “The pitcher threw a lot harder than we planned for, the first two innings especially.”
Junior Bailey Smith went the distance on the mound for the Stormin’ Pointers and took the loss.
“She did a nice job,” White said. “She’s been hurt, so she hasn’t thrown for a while and she really had some pretty good velocity.”
Heading onto the field for the bottom half of the seventh, Lawson’s voice, a constant presence throughout Lady Spartan games, cut across the field to her teammates: “OKAY, HERE WE GO!”
Miller struck out the first two batters she faced and induced a fly ball to right field that ended the game.
“I’m tired after that game, and I’m sure they are, too,” White said of his team.

The road back to the state tournament began Wednesday, July 6, against Williamsburg in a District 5 quarterfinal in Solon.
Williamsburg came into the game with only six wins for the season, and at one point had lost 15 straight games.
The Lady Spartans opened the first inning with two runs, but the Raiders came back with a run in the second and another in the fifth (both unearned) to tie the game, which wasn’t decided until the eighth inning.
That’s when Solon put three runs on the board against Williamsburg starting pitcher Nicole Zuber for a 5-2 win.
Junior Bryn Hanrahan was 2-4 at the plate with two doubles, two RBI and two runs scored, while Heick was 3-4 with two RBI and a run scored. Lawson scored twice, reaching on a triple and a walk. Taylor Moore had a double and an RBI.
Miller limited Williamsburg to six hits while striking out four and walking one.
That win advanced the Lady Spartans to a semifinal with Roland Story (11-19), another team with a losing record that put up a good fight.
Miller, on the mound again for Solon, racked up seven strikeouts and only two walks but allowed five earned runs in 5 2/3 innings of work. Incoming freshman Kayla West took the mound for 1 1/3 innings, giving up four runs (one earned) on three hits, with a strikeout and two walks.
The Lady Spartans never trailed in the game, but they never were a comfortable distance away from Roland-Story, which tied the game at 3-3 in the bottom of the first.
Solon retook the lead for good with a run in the third, then tacked on four in the fourth and three in the fifth for an 11-6 lead. An insurance run in the top of the sixth gave Solon some much-needed breathing room, because Roland-Story came back with three runs in the bottom of the inning to close the gap to 12-9, the final score.
Lawson had a home run, two RBI and two stolen bases for the Lady Spartans while Hanrahan was 3-5 with two more doubles and three RBI. Lawson and Hanrahan each scored three times. Rogers was 3-4 with three RBI, while Moore had an RBI and two stolen bases (Solon stole 10 on the evening).