FORT DODGE — Clarke’s magical ride through the Class 3A postseason was finally grounded by Bondurant-Farrar all-state pitcher Cailey Schlenker and her hungry group of teammates.
“We finally get our picture up in the gym,” said Schlenker, named the all-tournament captain. “It’s not just the boys anymore.”
Bondurant-Farrar had won state titles in boys basketball as well as dual and traditional wrestling, but never in any girls sport, until posting a 6-3 victory over the Clarke Lady Indians Friday in the Class 3A championship game.
The Lady Jays (30-12) were toughened by finishing fifth in the rugged Raccoon River Conference, a league that produced both 4A finalists as Dallas Center-Grimes topped Carlisle later on Friday. Fifth-place Winterset was also a 4A state competitor from that league. Ballard, a regional finalist, was 3A champ a year ago.
South Central Conference champion Clarke (28-10) came into the title game hitting a class-best .453, averaging 11 runs per game in two state tournament victories.
Schlenker pitched a four-hitter Friday with one walk and one strikeout. She effectively induced pop flies and weak ground balls from a lineup that pounded 21 hits in Thursday’s 17-8 victory over New Hampton.
“She is a phenomenal pitcher,” said Clarke coach Lindsay Diehl. “I know she is going on to play at DMACC, which is a solid program. I knew we were going to have to make adjustments at the plate. She was living on the outside corner and mixing in the changeup. She was fooling us and we weren’t hitting the ball on the nose like we had been.”
A Clarke team that fell out of the state ratings during a seven-game losing streak, then rose to No. 11 at state tourney time, competed well with the No. 5 Lady Jays after a shaky start. B-F took a 3-0 lead in the top of the fourth inning. During that early stretch, Clarke had three of its four errors.
Bondurant-Farrar, which overcame five errors in its semifinal win over Sergeant Bluff-Luton, played errorless on Friday.
“I couldn’t be more proud of how we played the first two games up here,” Diehl said. “This one, we could tell there were some jitters. We looked tight those first couple innings, and gave a couple of runs away. Any time you’re playing in a huge game like that, and you’re giving runs away, it’s hard to fight back from that.”
Bondurant-Farrar coach Roger Roland, who previously won two state titles at Des Moines Lincoln, played “small ball” in scoring the team’s third run in the fourth. Schlenker led off with a double. A sacrifice bunt and squeeze bunt quickly made it 3-0.
As it turned out, the Lady Jays needed some seventh-inning insurance, when they scored three runs on one hit, a pair of walks and two fielder’s choices.
That’s because Clarke center fielder Carley Robins hit her third home run in two days when she smashed a drive straight into a 27 mph wind over the left field fence with Sarah Pate on base after her second hit of the game. The shot was a spirit booster in closing the gap to 3-2.
“It was right over the middle of the plate, and once it hit the bat I knew,” Robins said. “We needed to prove that we could score.”
The wind was out of the northwest with an accompanying cool front, and was the exact opposite of 25 mph gusts the day before that helped account for seven home runs in Clake’s semifinal game.
“I knew it was going to take a shot to get the ball out of the park today,” Diehl said. “Carley Robins stepped up and just smoked the ball. It put us right back in the ballgame. She’s done a heck of a job in this tournament.”
Clarke pitcher Libby Bemis, who returned to more normal production after Thursday’s windswept slugfest, said Bondurant-Farrar’s seventh inning rally, including two run-scoring fielder’s choices, was frustrating.
“They hit a couple balls hard today, but not too many hard hits,” Bemis said. “They were fast on the base paths. We just needed outs at that point, but we couldn’t get them when we needed them.”
Just before that, when Clarke trailed 3-2 and had the top of its batting order up in the sixth inning, Schlenker retired the team in order, aided by a terrific play in the hole by shortstop Emily Wilson.
Even after the Lady Jays went up 6-2 in the top of the seventh, Clarke didn’t retire quietly in its final at-bat. The fighting spirit hadn’t been extinguished.
Bemis led off with a double to right field, with Sydnee Redman replacing her as a courtesy runner. With one out, Redman advanced on a wild pitch and Ashley Gibbs drew a walk. Devon Carson then lofted a pop fly into foul territory behind third base.
Redman broke to the plate on the catch, and beat the tag as Carson picked up the RBI on a sacrifice fly.
Wilson then ranged to her right to glove another pop fly to end the game, and ignite a Lady Jay celebration in the center of the diamond.
It capped a revival of the Bondurant-Farrar program. In seven seasons, the Lady Jays are 203-65 under Roland and his assistant, his son Dustin Roland.
“One is a wrestling coach (Dustin) that just works his butt off and the other guy (Roger), he just loves the team,” Roland said. “That’s all we’ve got going for us, and those girls believed in us. We play against other teams with coaches who have a lot more knowledge of the game. I mean, Clarke of Osceola has three girls who played college softball, and were really good. They know every drill and they know the game. And all (Dustin) and I say is, let’s keep playing hard and we love you. It works.”
Eighth-grader Sam Koehn sparked the Lady Jay offense in this game, going 3-for-4 with a triple and three runs scored.
She joined Schlenker, Wilson and catcher Erin Sawatzky on the 3A All-Tournament Team. Representing Clarke were Pate (2-for-3 in the game), Bemis and Robins.
After receiving the runner-up trophy, Diehl consoled her disappointed squad. The fourth-year coach reminded them of what they had accomplished in front of a huge crowd of maroon-clad supporters.
“Any time you can end the year playing for a state championship, there’s nothing to be upset about,” Diehl said. “We looked uptight today in the first couple of innings, but these girls have never been in that situation before. I’m just so proud of this group of kids and how everybody showed up to support them.”
When seniors Pate, Gibbs, No. 2 pitcher Carrie Kindred and Kim Eddy were freshmen, Diehl arrived to lead a program that had won six games the previous season. She reminded them of their progress since that time.
“You have built a program that people know now,” Diehl said. “They want to be like you. That’s so awesome. So don’t hang your heads! There’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll be back.”
Of the two senior starters, Pate will join the University of Northern Iowa track team in the throwing events, while Gibbs plans to continue playing softball at Southwestern Community College.
Bemis and seven other starters on the field will return to make another run in 2014.
“Oh yeah, we’re coming back next year!” Robins said.
“I’m very excited for next year,” first baseman Devon Carson echoed.
Bondurant-Farrar 6, Clarke 3
R H E
B-F 101 100 3 — 6 5 0
Clarke 000 200 1 — 3 4 4
BF: Cailey Schlenker 1K 1BB and Erin Sawatzky. C: Libby Bemis 1K 1BB 3 HBP and Kassidy Spurgin. W — Schlenker. L— Bemis. HR — C. Carley Robins. 3B — BF: Sam Koehn. 2B — BF: Schlenker; C: Bemis. RBI — BF: Keely Bycroft 1, Annika Ekstram 1, Schlenker 1, Sawatzky 1; C: Robins 2. Multiple hitters — BF: Sam Koehn 2; C: Sarah Pate 2.
All-tournament — Sarah Pate, Clarke; Erin Sawatzky, Bondurant-Farrar; Emily Kirchner, Estherville-Lincoln Central; Maddie Kaalberg, Mid-Prairie; Miles Ludwigs, Sergeant Bluff-Luton; Raelyn Webster, New Hampton; Sam Koehn, Bondurant-Farrar; Libby Bemis, Clarke; Emily Wilson, Bondurant-Farrar; Carley Robins, Clarke; Cailey Schlenker, Bondurant-Farrar (captain).