FORT DODGE — Southwestern’s young softball team bowed out on the first day of Region XI competition Friday.
The sixth-seeded Spartans were edged 5-4 in a comeback effort by No. 3 seed Iowa Central. In consolation play in the double-elimination tourney, seventh-seeded NIACC then defeated Southwestern, 7-2.
Iowa Central followed with an 8-0 loss to second-seeded DMACC. In that game, sophomore shortstop Katlin Briley of Creston had three hits for the victorious Bears.
DMACC picked up a key 5-1 win over top-seeded Kirkwood Saturday, including a home run by Briley, to enter Sunday as the only unbeaten team in the field. Kirkwood faced No. 4 seed Marshalltown for the right to take on the Bears and stay in contention, and sailed to an 8-0 victory in Sunday’s first game.
That set up a rematch with DMACC on Sunday, and the 16th-ranked Bears again defeated the No. 4 Kirkwood Eagles, 7-1, to win the regional title. Briley was 3-of-5 at the plate, finishing a 9-of-15 weekend.
Sophomore Riley Fisher of Des Moines East, a transfer from Iowa State, pitched a three-hitter. The only run allowed was on a slap hit that got past the outfielder for an inside-the-park home run. Sophomore Aly Netty of Waterloo pitched the first win over Kirkwood on Saturday, after Kirkwood had swept four regular-season meetings with DMACC.
“We hit the ball a lot better and stayed relaxed,” Briley said. “We didn’t think of them as Kirkwood the great team. We weren’t intimidated. We didn’t make as many errors as the other games against them.
This sets up a district double-elimination tournament in Columbus Neb., Wednesday and Thursday involving host Central Nebraska, a team that lost 5-1 to DMACC at the Kirkwood tournament during the season, and Williston State College of North Dakota. DMACC opens against Williston State at 2 p.m. Wednesday.
The district champion advances to the Division II National Championship May 14-17 at Clinton, Miss. DMACC is in just its third year of competition in softball under coach Bob Ligouri, former Des Moines East coach, and the Bears are at the district level for the second time. That inaurgural 2012 team advanced to the national tourney.
Meanwhile, Friday’s competition ended a season of learning for Southwestern’s young team.
Catcher and designated hitter Brooke Wolf was the only player with regional tournament experience for the 2014 Spartans. Sophomore outfielder Molly Schimp had not played since her 10th-grade year. The other Spartan starters, including pitchers Danielle McIntosh and Sam Strand, were all freshmen.
Against Iowa Central Friday, Southwestern fell behind early 2-0. But the Spartans struck for four runs in the second and third innings to take a 4-2 lead that held up until the bottom of the sixth, when the Tritons retook the lead with a three-run burst.
Iowa Central knotted the game on consecutive singles from No. 8 and No. 9 batters Casey-May Huff and Taylor Barnett. Iowa State recruit Sammie Hildreth later plated the decisive run on a groundout to shortstop.
McIntosh took the loss for Southwestern, allowing eight hits and only three earned runs in six innings. She fanned two and issued four walks.
Ashley Gibbs and Emma Ferin homered for the Spartans against Iowa Central pitcher Allie Ingalls, who improved to 21-7. Sam Strand had two hits. Both teams left seven runners on base. Southwestern had the only two fielding errors in the game.
“I really felt we had that game when we were up 4-2 going into the bottom of the sixth,” said SWCC coach Lindsay Stumpff. “Then it was kind of like so many games, we had some walks and errors and didn’t finish. It seemed to leave us kind of flat for that second game.”
In the elimination round, NIACC opened up a 4-2 lead with three runs in the top of the seventh against Southwestern.
The Lady Trojans had a seven-strikeout performance by Cheyanne Warne in beating the Spartans. Warne allowed only four hits, including a double and single by Ferin. Warne hit a solo homer to help the Lady Trojans, who had 10 total hits against Strand and McIntosh, who relieved the Spartan starter in the seventh.
Strand finished with four strikeouts and one walk. McIntosh issued two bases on balls in her inning.
Southwestern finished with a 17-28 record.
“It’s always sad to say goodbye to your sophomores,” Stumpff said. “But I’m extremely excited about next year. Our freshmen are going to come back stronger with that experience, and we have some quality players coming in.”
Among those is Wayne of Corydon all-state pitcher Breanna Fortune, who was recruited by UNI, Iowa State, Western Kentucky and Kent State.