WINTERSET — A storybook ending that ended a chapter short.
That’s how Corning softball coach Allen Naugle characterized the Red Raider season, which came to a close here Monday night in a 13-0 loss to No. 2-ranked Martensdale-St. Marys. The game was completed in 50 minutes.
By winning the Class 1A regional final, the Blue Devils (30-2) earned a return trip to the state tournament in Fort Dodge, where they take on 10th-ranked New London (30-9) in a quarterfinal game at 1:30 p.m. Monday. No. 1-ranked Akron-Westfield is in the opposite bracket.
Martensdale-St. Marys won last year’s state championship by beating Earlham in the finals.
It was Earlham that ended Corning’s season a year ago, also in the regional finals in Creston.
Naugle’s message to his team after the game was to focus on those accomplishments, rather than dwell on the mistakes that came in trying to deal with the Blue Devils’ “small ball” tactics of slap bunts and stolen bases. If speed kills, Martensdale-St. Marys is lethal on the softball diamond.
“In all honesty, if we can get runners on at the top of our order, with all of the speed that we have, we’re playing our game,” said coach Todd Verwers, who also serves as assistant coach at Southwestern Community College. “Every one of our kids can bunt, and tonight we executed pretty much flawlessly. We like to get a lot of moving parts in the defense and execute with speed.”
Corning, which also lost to the Blue Devils 18-6 earlier in the season, had a relatively successful first inning in yielding only one run by leadoff batter Kylah Shumacher, who went 3-for-3 with three runs scored.
But, while pitcher Elizabeth Gerdes was mowing down the Red Raiders on just two hits by Sydney Pontius and Kelsie Kinman, she was supported by an explosive offense in the second and third innings.
With Corning rattled in the field, dropping throws on plays that were made in the semifinal win over Murray, Martensdale-St. Marys struck for seven runs on four hits, two walks and an error to take an 8-0 lead in the second inning.
It grew to 13-0 in the third with five runs on three hits and three errors.
Corning (15-15) needed two runs to keep the game going in the bottom of the third, but managed only one baserunner on a walk by Kelsey Anstey.
“That first inning, they played right with us and everything,” Verwers said. “There is a reason why they are here. If you get a chance to end it with them, you gotta end it. I know Murray was up on them, and they hit the ball last time against us.”
Naugle said his team needs to forget this game and focus on the fact they were one of the final 16 teams playing this season in Class 1A, and one of “just a handful” of teams that made it to the regional final round two consecutive years.
“The way we started off the season, 3-10, anything could have happened,” Naugle said. “These girls could have quit right there. For us to gel together and finish off the year 12-5, that is just short of amazing. They really pulled together and fought the whole way through. We lost kids for various reasons throughout the season, but these kids stuck it out and played hard.”
Naugle said he knew it was going to take a “near-perfect” game defensively against the challenging Blue Devil bunt-and-run game.
“A lot of the pressure started without us making plays to get the first runner out,” Naugle said. “They’re fast, and once they get runners on, they’re tough. Their three-hitter is the leading hitter in the state, all classes.”
First baseman Nicole Shutt entered Monday’s game batting .653, which leads all classes in the state.
Two Blue Devil seniors — third baseman Katrina DeVore and center fielder Emma Ferin — plan to play at Southwestern Community College. Gerdes is an early graduate as a junior and will play at Hope College in Michigan. Otherwise, the Pride of Iowa Conference champions return intact, including Verwers’ daughter Riley, who shared pitching duties with Gerdes and moves into the primary role in 2014.
If the Blue Devils get past New London Monday, they would face either fourth-ranked Newell-Fonda or No. 8 Remsen St.Mary’s on July 25. The championship game is 10 a.m. Friday, to be telecast on MC 22 on the Mediacom cable network.
“It’s tough,” Verwers said. “You have to get a first-round draw that you match up well with, and then get all kinds of things to go your way. If you can hold your nerves and execute, you have a shot.”
Monday’s defeat marked the end of Corning High School athletics, and the coaching stint for Naugle, who guided the Red Raiders to three regional finals in six years. He submitted his resignation to concentrate on coaching football and boys track.
Meanwhile, Corning and Villisca merge this fall to form Southwest Valley Timberwolves. The team takes Corning’s spot in the Pride of Iowa Conference. The POI has no other changes.
High school activities will be held at Corning, except for at least one home game a year (not including football), and middle school activities will be based in Villisca. Naugle said athletic director Mat Beu has not announced a successor in the softball program.
“I just felt it would be a good time to step away from the grind of so many sports,” Naugle said. “If we had gone to state, football starts the following Monday. This was an amazing group to end on.”
Martensdale-St. Marys 13, Corning 0
R H E
M-SM 175 — 13 10 0
Corning 000 — 0 2 4
MSM: Elizabeth Gerdes 3K 1BB and Vicki Kordick. C: Ella Akin 3K 3BB and Madison Shuey. W — Gerdes. L— Akin. 2B — MSM: Kordick. RBI — MSM: Jamie Jordan 2, Kylah Shumacher 1, Katrina DeVore 1, Nicole Shutt 1, Emma Ferin 1, Kordick 1, Riley Verwers 1. Multiple hitters — MSM: Shumacher 3, Kordick 3.