Southwestern took a strong hold on the No. 3 seed for this week’s regional tournament by going 4-2 in three league doubleheaders over the weekend.
In the process, the Spartans flirted with upsetting the nation’s No. 3-rated Division II team, leading 2-1, before falling 9-2 in the regular-season finale here Sunday against Kirkwood.
By taking that game and the opener, 8-0, on a two-hit shutout by former Earlham prep Amber Logemann, the third-ranked Eagles wrapped up a 26-0 conference season. Overall, Kirkwood is 46-3.
Sixth-ranked DMACC, which lost a doubleheader to Kirkwood Thursday, is a clear runner-up in the conference at 22-4. By one game, SWCC is third at 15-11 and 22-14 overall entering the playoffs.
Splitting with NIACC Sunday, Marshalltown sits a game behind the Spartans in fourth at 14-12.
Some teams have games remaining today and Tuesday before the double-elimination regional tourney begins Thursday at Harlan Rogers Complex in Fort Dodge.
If the seedings hold, Southwestern would meet sixth-seeded Iowa Lakes (6-19, 11-25) at 5 p.m. Thursday. Marshalltown would meet fifth-seeded NIACC (5-12, 10-15) at 3 p.m.
Sophomore Leah Kipfer, who has been Southwestern’s most effective pitcher this season, including an even battle at 2-2 through four innings against Kirkwood Sunday, is limited to no more than five innings per outing with a sore ankle. Coach Lindsay Stumpff said it was diagnosed as a fracture on Friday, but Kipfer wanted to finish out the season with noticeable tenderness on her landing (left) foot in her pitching motion.
“They (doctors) didn’t want her to, but it was up to her,” Stumpff said. “She wants to do it. The fortunate thing is that we only play one game a day in the regional tournament.
Despite that setback, SWCC’s 4-2 weekend built some momentum going into the tourney, Stumpff said. Last year, the Spartans reached the regional finals, falling to DMACC.
“It’s a whole new season,” Stumpff said. “People are in different mind frames. I think we’re a team that has picked up their game. We had a good run last year, and we have a lot of our leaders back. We’re very capable. We just have to eliminate the bad innings.”
One such inning was the downfall Sunday after battling toe-to-toe with Kirkwood for several innings.
Shortstop Hannah Sneed’s solo homer gave Southwestern a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the fourth, as Kipfer was sailing with only two hits allowed.
Kirkwood started to heat up in the fifth, scoring three runs on two home runs by Leah Duffe and Haylee Krack.
At that point, Stumpff decided to rest Kipfer and bring third baseman Danyielle Barger in relief. After yielding a single, Barger retired the next two batters to get out of the inning with a 4-2 deficit.
SWCC threatened to get back in the game in the bottom of the fifth, with the tying runs on base and Sneed at bat. Freshman Shyanne Saladino was brought in to relieve for starter Sam Belz.
Sneed made good contact, but her hard liner to the left side happened to go right to the shortstop, who stepped on second for the inning-ending double play.
Things unraveled for the Spartans in the seventh. Krack clubbed an RBI double deep to left. Then, with the bases loaded and no outs, a two-run double made it 7-2, and a third run scored as the throw into catcher Brooke Wolf bounced into the dugout, advancing all runners.
Kadarenna Sales stroked an RBI single to right for the final 9-2 margin, as Barger finally got out of the rally with a popout to short and flyball to center.
Southwestern went down in order in the seventh.
“Leah pitched well. We just had the one bad inning,” Stumpff said.
Courtney Wagner took the loss in the first game, as Southwestern managed only two hits by Sneed and Barger against Logemann, who led Earlham to a state runner-up finish last year to Martensdale-St. Marys, coached by SWCC assistant Todd Verwers.
“Courtney struggled to find the zone, and we were not disciplined at the plate in that first game,” Stumpff said. “We were swinging at pitches we haven’t swung at.”
The Spartans began the weekend with a sweep at Fort Dodge against last-place Iowa Central, 8-5 in nine innings and 5-3. They followed with a sweep at Iowa Lakes Saturday, 11-2 in five innings and 2-1.