Not the Champs, but forever the first
FT. DODGE– They didn’t come away as the Class 5A state champions, but the West High Women of Troy returned to Iowa City as the first softball team from West to make it to the State Tournament.
And you can’t take that distinction away from them.
“That in itself is pretty unbelievable,” Coach Jeff Kelley said after Friday evening’s third round game. “All the great teams that have been at West, and didn’t have this opportunity… I think our girls understand and appreciate that. They’ve done something nobody else has ever done before, and nobody can ever do this again either. There’s only one ‘first time’.”
The Women of Troy took care of Ottumwa in Tuesday’s first round game 5-0 before falling 4-0 in the semifinal round to Ankeny, the only team to hand Clear Creek Amana a loss during the regular season. The loss dropped West into the third place game Friday, where a not-so-pleasant Pleasant Valley squad pulled off a 5-2 win.
West put up two runs in the bottom of the first inning Tuesday against Ottumwa, added two more in the third and one in the fourth while shutting-out the Bulldogs. Michaela Recker and Morgan Ryan both had two hits while Tatum Klein, Brianna Sturtz, Shelly Stumpff and Madi Miller had one hit each. Ryan had a two-RBI single in the third inning. Mackenzie Laux worked all seven innings striking-out four, walking one and giving up five hits.
For West: 5 runs, 8 hits, 0 errors.
For Ottumwa: 0 runs, 5 hits, 3 errors.
The Hawkettes of Ankeny shut-out the Women of Troy Thursday, putting up two runs in the top of the third and two in the seventh. Lauren Larson and Recker were the only West High batters to get a hit off pitcher Shayla Starkenburg, who improved her record this season to 30-0 with the win. Laux again handled pitching duties, working all seven innings. She struck-out seven, walked five and gave up six hits and four earned runs.
For West: 0 runs, 2 hits, 0 errors.
For Ankeny: 4 runs, 6 hits, 1 error.
The loss sent West to the third place contest. For some teams, this would be a hard blow to recover from. Kelley was philosophical about it. “You plan out the course of a season and you say ‘how do you want it to end up?’ You say ‘we want to be playing in Ft. Dodge on the last day of the season.’ We’re playing in Ft. Dodge on the last day of the season. The season turned out like we wanted it to, the last day just didn’t work out for us.”
The last day meant a collision course with the Spartans of Pleasant Valley.
It also meant another game plagued by illegal pitch calls against Laux. The not-so-pleasant fans of Pleasant Valley echoed the third base umpire’s “Illegal!” calls, which came so frequently, Kelley relieved the senior (with two years on the team after transferring from Pekin) and moved Stumpff to the circle.
“It’s a real shame for ‘Kenzie,” Kelley said, “because she’s just trying to do everything she can to help us win a ball game. And to see it influenced like that… it’s unfortunate. It’s amazing how you can go an entire season and not see it called like that.”
Through tears, Laux offered her perspective. “It’s just been unbelievable, words can’t really explain it, the whole illegal pitching thing just kinda sucks. My team has been behind me the whole year.” She praised her teammates saying “I have a way better defense behind me” than she would’ve had at Pekin. “I wouldn’t have made it to state without them.”
The Spartans struck with a run in the top of the second, one in the third and fourth, and two in the seventh. West’s runs both came in the seventh, an inning where Kelley managed to get everybody in the dugout some time on a state tournament diamond. Mackenzie Haight singled and had Jess Harder pinch run for her. Adara Opiola pinch-hit for Recker and walked bringing Paige Powers to the plate. She walked, loading up the bases. Harder scored on, of all things, an illegal pitch. Danielle Chelf grounded out to the shortstop, but Opiola was able to score the second and final run.
Haight, Sturtz, Stumpff and Miller had West’s only four hits. In her 2.1 innings, Laux struck-out two, walked one and gave up two hits and two earned runs. Stumpff struck-out three in her 4.2 innings of work, walking one and giving up four hits and three runs (all earned).
For West: 2 runs, 4 hits, 2 errors.
For Pleasant Valley: 5 runs, 6 hits, 1 error.
Recker was the only Woman of Troy named to the Class 5A All Tournament Team.
West ends the season with a 37-8 record and will say goodbye to seniors Klein, Sturtz, Stumpff, Laux, Jaylinn Tresslar, Chelf and Haight. Kelley spoke fondly about the group. “Shelly, Mack (Haight), they’ve been with the varsity since they were eighth graders. TK (Klein) and Bri (Sturtz) and Jay (Tresslar), Danielle (Chelf); they joined us as freshmen so they’ve been through four and five years of having to deal with me as their coach. I’m just very happy they were rewarded for their work and their efforts. It’s special that this group was able to experience this.”