OSCEOLA — Life is just a little bit different than it was prior to the July 15 come-from-behind regional final win for Clarke softball coach Lindsay Diehl.
“I walked into Fareway the other day and got a round of applause,” she said. “That’s what I love about a small community. And when we came back into town, the streets were lined with people ready to cheer us on and support us.”
The Lady Indians definitely have the support of the community, which is proud to have a team qualify for the state tournament. Clarke’s only other state softball appearance came in 1995 when the Lady Indians won the state championship.
But, Diehl explains, this Clarke team isn’t satisfied with just making it to the Class 3A State Softball Tournament.
“It took a couple of days for my phone to stop ringing so much, so many congratulations and all that, for it to really sink in and know that we’re headed to Fort Dodge,” she said. “We’re still at work, though. We’re ready to go up there and not just satisfied with making it. We’re there to go to work and come home with a state championship.”
The first obstacle on the path to the school’s second softball state championship is fourth-ranked East Marshall, with an overall season record of 29-5. Game time is 11 a.m. today at Harlan Rogers Sports Complex in Fort Dodge on Diamond 1.
On paper, the two teams look almost identical.
Both teams feature powerful offenses and strong pitching, highlighted by two capable pitchers in the circle for each team.
East Marshall has hit 26 home runs this season, including 14 by senior Katie Roseland.
In comparison, Clarke has hit 27 home runs as a team, led by junior first baseman Devon Carson’s nine homers.
East Marshall also features five players batting over .400 for the season and a total of eight players hitting over .300.
“They’re definitely an offensive power team, too,” Diehl said. “I feel really comfortable with the pitching we have, whether it’s Libby (Bemis) on the mound or Carrie (Kindred) on the mound, that we’ve been able to keep batters off balance.
“And playing West Burlington, they had insane batting averages,” Diehl continued. “Their top five batters were a really big threat, and Libby did a great job of shutting them down.”
Bemis allowed just three hits in that contest, and only two balls left the infield against her.
The biggest downfall for Clarke in that game was errors defensively. But, the Lady Indians have gone back to working on fundamentals in practice this week, in preparation of their state tournament run.
East Marshall’s pitching duties have been split almost 50/50 this year, between sophomore Mariah Fritz and junior Haley Long.
Fritz has made 18 starts, with a 14-3 record, throwing 117 2/3 innings. She has recorded 135 strikeouts compared to just 32 walks, and is holding opponents to a batting average of .218 with an ERA of 1.78.
Long is 14-2 in 16 starts, throwing 92 1/3 innings. She has struck out 118 batters with just 45 walks, holding opponents to a batting average of .191 with an ERA of 2.50.
For Clarke, Bemis is 17-6 in 20 starts, pitching 141 2/3 innings with 196 strikeouts and just 41 walks. She has held opponents to a .160 batting average and has a season ERA of 1.19.
Kindred, meanwhile, has pitched 82 1/3 innings with a 9-3 record in 15 starts. She has recorded 60 strikeouts with just 14 walks, while holding opponents to a .230 batting average with a 2.30 ERA.
“I feel like their pitching is similar to how we have split Carrie and Libby this year, so I don’t really know who it is that we’ll face once we get up there,” Diehl said. “My kids have done a really good job of adjusting at the plate. We’ve learned to make adjustments and learned that no matter what pitcher is coming at us, we’ve been able to be successful at putting the ball in play and manufacturing runs.”
Diehl does notice one difference between her team and East Marshall, however. And that difference is in the scheduling throughout the season.
“The one thing I feel really great about is the difference, I think, in our regular season schedules,” she said. “We went and found opponents that challenged us to get us prepared for this moment. When I compare East Marshall’s schedule and our schedule, I do feel like we’ve been through the grind a little bit more and played some of those bigger schools that I think is going to pay off for us in Fort Dodge.”
The Lady Indians will find out today if that grind does, in fact, pay off.