IOWA CITY– What a year for Iowa City West High. State volleyball championship? Check. Girls’ state basketball championship? Check. Boys’ state basketball championship? Check. State softball championship? Stay tuned.
West High’s Women of Troy will get back to you on that as they make their first softball tournament appearance following a 6-0 shut-out of visiting Cedar Rapids Prairie Tuesday night.
“Words can’t describe it,” said senior Shelly Stumpff who will make her third state tournament appearance this school year, having competed in the volleyball and basketball championships. “Who would ever have thought this would be the year I’d go to state three times, and our first time ever at softball?” she asked, especially in the wake of teammate and dear friend Caroline Found’s death last August just weeks before the school year started. Found’s game shirt was hung in the dugout all season long, and her number nine was ubiquitous. Immediately after the final out was called, teammates exploded out of West’s dugout with Lauren Larson clutching Found’s shirt which was held as high if not higher than their red state qualifier banner.
West controlled the game from Mackenzie Laux’s first pitch, allowing only two hits from the Prairie Hawks, and letting no runners past second base. Laux had nine strikeouts and seemed to have completely shaken-off the micro-inspection of each pitch she had encountered in the regional semifinal game.
Tatum Klein, West’s lead-off hitter, singled in the bottom of the first inning, advanced on a Brianna Sturtz sacrifice bunt, but was shot down trying to steal third. Larson singled in the second but was left stranded on base. In the third inning Klein reached first on an error and scored on a Stumpff RBI double for a 1-0 lead. Larson brought Stumpff home with an RBI single giving West a 2-0 lead and confidence boost.
Mikaela Morgan singled in the fourth and was stranded before West’s four-run fifth inning broke loose. The assault began as West loaded up the bases. Sturtz singled, Stumpff walked and Larson singled. Michaela Recker belted out a two-RBI double followed by an RBI single from Madi Miller to make it 5-0 while the sixth run scored during a throw to first.
“It’s crazy to me,” Stumpff said. “This was our goal all year; it’s exciting to be the first team to do it.”
“We’ve got a great team,” said Laux, who credited her teammates for backing her up all the way with their strong defense.
“We earned this,” coach Jeff Kelley said. “We did our job at the beginning of the season; we worked for the best seed and to play at home.” Kelley had praise for Laux, saying, “she’s wanted this probably as much as anyone,” noting her disappointment in herself for last year’s regional final loss to Des Moines Lincoln. “She’s kind of a ‘prime-time player.’ This is the stage she wanted to be on, and she took full advantage.”
The coach also pointed to his seniors, some of whom (Stumpff and Haight) have played varsity since eighth grade, and others (Klein and Sturtz) since their freshman year. “This senior group was close as sophomores and juniors. The reality is, this was their last chance (for state). The finality of it can be a driving force.”
And then there was Caroline.
“Her passing, I think that helped us come together as a team,” Laux said. “We stuck together. We came together. We wanted to make school history.”
“They’re a tough bunch” said Kelley. “They learned through some of the adversity we’ve had to deal with. Give them a lot of credit to stay focused and have that drive to finish this thing off the right way.” Seeing Caroline’s father Ernie Found in the stands, as he has been all along, also helped the Women of Troy. “Seeing Ernie gives us more confidence, he makes it easier to make even more of an effort,” Stumpff said.
West’s first game was on Tuesday, July 17, (after this issue’s deadlines and printing) against Ottumwa. The Women of Troy brought a 36-6 record to bear against Ottumwa’s 34-8. The semifinal game is scheduled for Thursday, July 18, at 7 p.m. and the Class 5A championship for Friday, July 19, at 7 p.m. All games are being played in Fort Dodge at the Harlan Rogers Sports Complex.