Southwestern’s softball team achieved a doubleheader split against the nation’s sixth-ranked team in the most unlikely of circumstances Wednesday afternoon.
The Bears, featuring contributions by freshman shortstop Katlin Briley and pinch-hitter Shelby Kramer, both of Creston, rolled to a 10-1 victory in game one. That improved the nationally-ranked Bears to 30-3 overall and 18-1 in the ICCAC Division II standings, one game behind third-ranked Kirkwood.
Leah Kipfer, the Spartans’ most effective pitcher this season, was limited to three innings in game two, as she nurses a sprained left ankle back to health.
After those three frames, the teams were tied 2-2 as Tessa Otto of Murray singled and scored on an RBI single by third baseman Danyielle Barger.
Then, SWCC coach Lindsay Stumpff rolled the dice, and called on Barger for her first pitching appearance of the season.
Although slower than most ICCAC pitchers, Barger maintained efficient control, relying on the defense behind her. The teams were tied 4-4 entering the seventh thanks to a two-run SWCC rally in the sixth.
That uprising included a towering solo homer to center by Barger — her second of the day — and an RBI hit by Devan Kline that fell into shallow right field, chasing in Carla Smith of Creston, who had earlier tripled to right.
That set up the dramatic finish in the bottom of the seventh for the Spartans against DMACC pitcher Britney Lee.
Dominique Tolle stepped up and blasted a solo home run to left field for a 5-4 Spartan victory.
Southwestern, fourth in the league at 11-9, and 18-12 overall, put the Bears two games behind Kirkwood going into their matchup with the league leaders today in Cedar Rapids.
“Dominique had been struggling at the plate a little bit,” Stumpff said. “That girl pitched for them at nationals, I believe. Perfect ending!”
Stumpff’s gamble of allowing Barger to make her debut in the pitching circle in a tie game against the No. 6 team in the nation had paid off.
“Leah will not be going more than five innings this whole weekend,” Stumpff explained. “She went five innings the other day, and it (ankle) was pretty sore the day afterward. So, we thought we’d just go three today. She gave us what we wanted from her.
“Courtney (Wagner) struggled a little in the first game,” Stumpff continued. “So we thought we’d make a little change. Danyielle did a heck of a job. We’ve been working with her since January, so she’s been throwing a little. She doesn’t have the velocity by any means, but she wasn’t walking people. On top of that she hit a home run in the first game and another in the second game, so you can’t do much better than that!”
Barger scattered four hits in four innings, with two strikeouts and two walks. In Kipfer’s three innings she fanned four, walked one and gave up three hits with two earned runs.
Barger was 2-2 at the plate with a home run and two RBI. Other extra-base hits were a double by Brook Wolf, Smith’s triple and Tolle’s homer.
Briley was 2-4 in that game for DMACC after reaching base twice in the opener on fielder’s choices.
One bad inning was the downfall of Wagner and the Spartans in the opener.
DMACC led 1-0 after one inning, 2-1 after three frames, and 3-1 through four. A seven-run fifth ended the game on the eight-run mercy rule, 10-1.
In that inning, Kourtni Robinson stroked a two-run hit to make it 8-1, and two more runs scored on a grounder to second. Earlier, Briley sent a run home on her fielder’s choice bouncer, and Kramer drew a walk.
Hannah Sneed doubled for one of just three hits off DMACC pitcher Mari Silliman of Winterset. For SWCC, Wagner went full-count 13 times and finished with eight walks, five strikeouts and 10 hits allowed while yielding seven earned runs.
Bob Ligouri, who guided the first-year DMACC program to the national tournament last year in the regional finals over Southwestern, was disappointed in his team’s performance down the stretch Wednesday. Especially heading into today’s doubleheader at Kirkwood.
“It should be a wakeup call, but we don’t know that it will be,” Ligouri said. “It’s really up to them. We have forgotten how to sustain energy and focus.”
An example of the Bears’ downfall was a shallow flyball hit to right by Kline in SWCC’s two-run sixth, when DMACC was holding onto a 4-2 lead. The ball fell between the right fielder and second baseman, catchable by either.
“If the third baseman comes in to pitch and beats a team in the top 10, I give all the credit in the world to them,” Ligouri said. “They hit the ball. Our team has to figure some things out.”
Even in his disappointment, Ligouri praised the contributions this year of his two former Creston standouts.
“Shelby has been able to get some pinch hit at-bats and she does really well,” he said. “She walked today, she got a hit the other day. We’re really proud of everything she’s fought through.”
Kramer, Creston’s all-time home run leader, has continued to play while battling multiple sclerosis.
Briley has been a spark in the second spot of the batting order for DMACC, while also providing stellar defense. She stabbed a one-hop shot to her right and flipped to second base for the force out to end SWCC’s fourth inning with the game tied 2-2.
“Katlin is having an all-region type of season,” Ligouri said. “She’s hitting almost .480 for us, and she’s playing a great shortstop.”
It was a reunion of sorts for ex-Panthers on the field, as SWCC’s Smith played both first and second base in the doubleheader. At one time, they all shared time in the same infield for Creston coach Mike McCabe, with Smith the catcher, Kramer at first and Briley at shortstop.
Southwestern, meanwhile, hopes to ride the momentum of the second-game victory in three upcoming league doubleheaders. The Spartans travel to Iowa Central Friday and Iowa Lakes on Saturday, before returning home to face third-ranked Kirkwood Sunday afternoon.