WINTERSET — Things spiralled out of control for the Creston softball team here Thursday night after a second inning error led to a three-run home run that sparked Winterset to an 11-0 win in a Class 4A Region 7 opener.
The Panthers had seemingly gotten out of the inning, as pitcher Haylee LaMasters induced a grounder right back to her. But, an error on the play gave Winterset new life with two runners on base.
Leadoff hitter Sammie Nicholson took full advantage of the new life, sending the very next pitch high over the left field fence for a three-run home run that ignited the Husky offense.
“Good teams take advantage,” Creston head coach Mike McCabe said. “I think it speaks volumes for their conference. Those kids are young. Holy cow. Nice team. Very good team.”
Winterset head coach Steve Corkrean said Nicholson, a University of Northern Iowa recruit, has come up huge for the Huskies as of late.
“That was big for us,” he said. “Of course Sam is always eventually going to get hers, and if you give her enough chances, she can hurt you. She’s getting hot at the right time of the year for us.”
Winterset had runners on second and third with one out in the first inning, but LaMasters worked out of that jam.
In fact, LaMasters worked out of several jams throughout the night, but it was three big innings that sunk the Panthers.
In addition to the three-run second inning, Winterset scored four runs on four hits and one Panther error in both the fifth and seventh innings.
Even with the three errors, the Panther defense sparkled at times Thursday night.
With a runner on third and one out in the third inning, Winterset attempted a squeeze bunt, but LaMasters threw out the runner at home plate after fielding the bunt.
The fourth inning ended with a play at the plate, as left fielder Jami Sickels gunned down Winterset speedster Ellie McDonald, who tried to score from second on a Macy Johnson single.
But the play of the night came in the sixth inning, with runners on first and second and no outs.
Pinch hitter Alexa Clark hit a sinking liner to freshman third baseman Lexie Little, who caught the ball just before it hit the ground. Little immediately threw to first base for the second out, and first baseman Alli Thomsen threw to Shelby Palser at second base to complete the triple play.
But even with the strong defensive plays, recording just five hits compared to 17 by Winterset was too much to overcome for Creston.
“You’re not going to dodge the bullet every time when you keep giving them chances like that,” McCabe said. “We still threw two kids out at the plate and had a triple play. I mean, good grief. Nothing real magic. They hit the ball. I thought our kids battled all right at the plate against Regan (Thompson). She’s very good. We just couldn’t string enough together.”
Thursday’s regional opener marked the return to the lineup for Thompson, who had only pitched a handful of times since the middle of June while battling tendinitis.
Thompson pitched six innings for the Huskies, giving up just four hits and one walk, while striking out six.
She held the top three hitters in the Creston lineup to an 0-for-7 night at the plate.
“They were pretty tough on our top three or four hitters,” McCabe said. “I think pitchers typically will bear down a little bit. I think most of our hits came at the bottom of the order. Natalie (Mostek) had a nice double there. We just couldn’t string enough of them together.”
Jami Sickels led the Panthers with two hits. Mostek knocked a double, while Brenna Baker and Little each finished with one hit.
The loss ended Creston’s season with a mark of 21-10 overall. Winterset improved to 19-15 and advances to take on conference opponent Ballard on Saturday night in Huxley in the regional semifinals.
McCabe said with Thursday’s loss, it’s easy to overlook what the Panthers accomplished this season.
Creston finished 17-3 in the Hawkeye 10 Conference, sharing the conference title with Harlan. The Panthers won 16 straight conference games to close out the season.
“Tonight doesn’t define our season,” McCabe said. “If anything, tonight motivates us that we still have work to do.
“The previous eight weeks, the fact of those kids setting a goal and wanting to be conference champion and growing together, battling, persevering and sticking together and believing and trusting us as coaches, that was fun. I’m proud of them. Right now, it’s hard to look that way. But take a couple of days and we’ll be able to appreciate a little more what they did.”
Winterset 11, Creston 0
R H E
Winterset 030 040 4 — 11 17 0
Creston 000 000 0 — 0 5 3
W: Regan Thompson 1BB 6K, Ericka Shahan (7) 0BB 0K and Kylie McDonald. Cr: Haylee LaMasters 3BB 2K and Natalie Mostek. W — Thompson. L— LaMasters. HR — W: Sammie Nicholson 1. 3B — none. 2B — W: McDonald 2, Macy Johnson 1. Cr: Mostek 1. RBI — W: Nicholson 3, Danny Barker 3, Alex Clark 2, Johnson 1, Layken Gurwell 1, Kendra Shaw 1. Multiple hitters — W: Barker 3, Johnson 3, Briley Tryon 2, Kylie McDonald 2, Ellie McDonald 2. Cr: Jami Sickels 2.