FORT DODGE — It took awhile for coach Lindsay Stumpff to gather her thoughts for her final postgame message to her players here Tuesday afternoon at Harlan Rogers Complex.
For the second year in a row, Southwestern had made a strong run in the regional softball tournament. This time, they fell short of making the finals like last year’s freshman-oriented crew. But, the determination to fight through early deficits had left an impression on her.
Southwestern had made it through Monday’s opening round, and faced a hot-hitting NIACC team early Tuesday in an elimination game. After falling behind 2-0 on an early home run, the Spartans rallied to win 3-2, thanks to two home runs by third baseman Danyielle Barger.
Up next was sixth-ranked DMACC, which had pounded the Spartans 9-1 on Monday night. DMACC was coming off a disheartening 1-0 loss to third-ranked Kirkwood in the winners’ bracket, and had to win to stay alive for the finals and a rematch with Kirkwood.
That looked like a cakewalk when the Bears zipped to a 5-0 lead. But, with sophomore Leah Kipfer pitching her second game of the day on a broken ankle, the Spartans rallied again to tie it 5-5.
More power from Barger, who finished with two more homers in this game and seven RBI, and a solo shot by Hannah Sneed, gave Southwestern a 9-8 lead and an upset was in the air.
The slugfest continued, however, as a three-run homer by DMACC finally chased Kipfer from the pitcher’s circle, and Southwestern’s season ended in a 12-9 loss.
After that emotional roller-coaster of a game, Stumpff met with her team, which includes 11 sophomores and only three returning freshmen.
“When it was 5-2, they did not give up,” Stumpff said. “They didn’t give up all day. That’s the one thing I’m really going to miss from this group. They played with intensity from the start of the game to the end of the game, no matter what the score was. I’m sure a lot of people thought this was going to be a quick game.”
You could use a lot of adjectives to describe the 12-9 battle with 23 total hits and four errors, but “quick” would not apply.
DMACC leadoff batter Mackenzie Alston greeted Kipfer with a solo home run in the first inning. Then shortstop Katlin Briley of Creston bunted for a hit. Kipfer loaded the bases with a single and a walk, and then another walk to force in the second run.
This all occurred before the first out of the inning.
Then, right fielder Tessa Otto lost a flyball in the sun and DMACC plated a run to make it 3-0. A sac fly and groundball out shot the lead to 5-0 before SWCC had even batted a second time against DMACC No. 2 pitcher Britney Lee.
With ace Mari Silliman of Winterset seemingly held for the next game against Kirkwood after losing 1-0 in a battle with Kirkwood star Amber Logemann of Earlham, Lee found herself in an offensvie battle.
Southwestern’s Carla Smith, former Creston High School player from Greenfield, singled in the second inning past a diving Briley. Ashley Strong doubled and Barger drove home a run on a sacrifice fly. Taylor Powers followed with a double to make it 5-2.
Southwestern left three runners on in the third inning, squandering a golden opportunity to further chip into the lead.
Finally, in the fifth, Southwestern caught up at 5-5. After Otto singled, Barger clubbed a two-run homer. On the next pitch, Sneed sent one over the center field fence.
DMACC answered with its own heavy blow, a three-run homer by Allie Fitzgerald, making it 8-5 with no outs. That’s when Stumpff decided 11 innings on a broken ankle was enough for Kipfer, and sophmore Courtney Wagner was brought in to pitch the rest of the game.
“It was time,” Stumpff said. “Leah had pitched great all day. We started her that second game because she said she still was going strong. But when she had gone 11 innings, it was time to show them something different. Sometimes you just have to make that decision.”
But the power-hitting dramatics weren’t over yet.
In the SWCC sixth inning, Powers singled and conference leading hitter Ashley Brandt was safe on a bloop hit that fell in near second base. An error on Otto’s bunt loaded the bases.
After a popout, Barger stepped up and smashed a line drive grand slam over the center field fence, for her fourth roundtripper of the day. That lifted SWCC to a 9-8 lead with two at-bats by DMACC left in the game.
“The funny thing is, I never hit home runs in high school,” said Barger, a native of Centerville. “I hit three in my career, and I started varsity in eighth grade, so that was five years. I think I just found my rhythm this year.”
DMACC scrambled back into the lead, however. Briley sparked the rally with a single to right field, and an error on a bunt put two runners aboard. A grounder by Jayden Ott tied it at 9-9.
After an infield hit, Fitzgerald clubbed her three-run shot for the final 12-9 margin. Lee hung on to retire the Spartans in order in the seventh, ending Southwestern’s season at 24-16. They had played to their No. 3 seed, bowing out just before the championship round.
In that game, Kirkwood (52-3) won the regional championship wth a 9-2 victory over DMACC, advancing to a district two-of-three series against the Nebraska/South Dakota region champion later this week in Boone. DMACC finished at 38-9.
Sneed and Strong both had two hits in the opener, as Barger had all three RBI on her two homers.
Kipfer was especially sharp in the opener, fanning seven with three walks and six hits allowed in the 3-2 win. She struggled more in the second game, going four-plus innings with six walks, one walk and eight hits allowed. Wagner yielded five hits and one walk in two innings.
Returning players are catcher Brooke Wolf, Strong at second base and reserve first baseman Sami Borland. The bulk of the team moves on.
“We have a lot of work to do, and it starts tomorrow,” said Stumpff, after this team compiled 67 victories in two seasons.