No. 10 Tigers finish as runners-up in Ft. Dodge
FT. DODGE — The New London softball team surged to a big lead early, but couldn’t hold on to the edge — or the state title — in a 5-4 loss to Akron-Westfield on Friday.
The young Tiger squad upset Class 1A’s No. 7, No. 4 and No. 2 teams on its way to the championship game, but couldn’t quite topple the top-ranked Westerners.
For photos from the state championship game, click here.
New London got on the board first in the game at Ft. Dodge, scoring four runs on one hit and five Akron-Westfield errors in the second inning.
Emily Parks reached on an error to start the frame, went to second on an Emma Pry single and then stole third. Pry then stole second, drawing a throw from the catcher that allowed Parks to steal home for the first run of the contest.
Victoria Noel then reached on an error, putting runners again at first and third, and another double steal netted the Tigers another run.
Jorgi Krieger reached on an error, and Noel scored on a passed ball. Krieger stole second and advanced to third on a wild pitch, and then also scored on a passed ball, giving the Tigers a 4-0 lead over the flustered Akron-Westfield team.
“We just put pressure on them, and they made errors,” New London Coach Paula Bliven said.
But the Westerners were ranked No. 1 for a reason, and they never gave up on their fifth state title, chipping away at the Tigers’ lead.
“With a 4-0 lead, it’s an easier feeling,” Bliven said. “But I don’t think we just rolled over — it wasn’t like that. We knew we’d still have to play the game. We know we’ve got to hit the ball — they (the Westerners) continued to do that all game, and the pressure comes up as they close in.”
The Tigers struggled at the plate in the contest, coming up with only three hits against Akron-Westfield pitcher Kayla Tindall, who was named the all-tournament team captain after the game.
Tindall walked two batters and struck out six in the complete-game effort, finishing the season with a record of 27-2. None of the Tigers’ four runs were earned; Tindall allowed only five earned runs on the season.
Akron-Westfield got its first run of the championship game in the fifth inning on a pair of singles and help from a New London error.
Most of the damage, however, came in the sixth frame.
A pair of singles scored the Westerners’ first earned run of the contest, and a double — the only extra-base hit of the game — scored another run to bring Akron-Westfield within one.
With two outs, Krieger — the Tigers’ shortstop — made a throw to Parks at home, beating the Akron-Westfield runner for the third out of the inning. But the call was later reversed by the third base umpire, who claimed that Parks had dropped the ball. The run counted, and the Westerners tied the game.
“There were some questionable calls — and that’s a game-changer,” Bliven said. “But that’s not where the blame lies. We all made plays; that’s just the way the ball bounces.”
The Westerners scored what would be the game-winner in the top of the seventh inning, when the leadoff batter singled, advanced to second on a groundout and scored on another single.
New London threatened in its last chance at the plate, starting at the top of the order and getting runners at second and third before the Westerners were able to put it away.
“We wanted it,” New London pitcher Morgan Christner said.
The Tigers end the season with a record of 32-10.
“It was an awesome season,” Christner said. “I think we opened a lot of people’s eyes. It stings right now, but overall, it was a great season.”
Christner gave up 10 hits for five runs (three earned) in the championship game.
She walked no one and struck out five batters, finishing the season with a pitching record of 31-9.
She and Parks were named to the all-tournament team for their efforts last week.
“Being a freshman out on the mound, I think I matured a lot this year — I think the whole team did,” Christner said.
The Tigers have a young squad, losing only one player to graduation: Caitlin Chiri.
“I pretty much could not have asked for a better season,” Chiri said. “I think people sort of underestimated us, but we came and played hard. We were the underdog — no one knew about us, because we were so young.”
The Tigers were a relatively unknown team this season, despite coming within one game of the state tournament last year and returning most players. They didn’t break into the Class 1A rankings until mid-season, and never made it higher than No. 10.
“We were okay with that,” Bliven said. “Sometimes the girls were questioning why were weren’t ranked higher, but as coaches, we liked being the underdogs, and were okay with the sleeper role. But we’ll have a target on our backs next year.”
The Tigers are confident that they’ll be back in Ft. Dodge next season.
“Next year, we want to come back here — it was an awesome experience,” Christner said.
“These girls have endless potential,” Bliven said. “They’re great kids, and they play together. It’s not about who gets the credit; they’re just out there to play softball.”
NEW LONDON vs. AKRON-WESTFIELD
Akron-Westfield 000 013 1 — 5 10 7
New London 040 000 0 — 4 3 4
WP — Kayla Tindall
LP — Morgan Christner
New London — Sami Koontz: 1-2. Christner: 0-2, 2 BB. Emily Parks: 0-4, run. Emma Pry: 1-4, run. Victoria Noel: 1-2, SAC, run. Jorgi Krieger: 0-1, 2 SAC, run.
Steals — Parks (2), Pry, and Krieger.
Akron-Westfield — Jaclyn Smith: 1-3, HBP, run. Bailey Davis: 2-4, RBI. Danika Tindall: 0-0, run. Katie Johnson: 2-4. Haley Coyle: 2-3, RBI, run. Jessica Hansen: 0-0, run. Jordan Hansen: 2-3, 2B, RBI, run. Sarah Schroeder: 1-2. SAC.
Steals — Johnson.