COBB — One of the best softball seasons in Iowa–Grant history came to a heartbreaking end Thursday with a 6–1 loss to top-ranked Juda/Albany in the WIAA Division 4 Darlington sectional final.
I–G played sloppy defense, couldn’t generate enough offense against their stingy Panther counterparts and ultimately fell one win short of a coveted trip to the WIAA state tournament.
Juda/Albany (25–2) took advantage of a pair of Iowa–Grant fielding errors in the top of the first inning to grab a 2–0 lead.
Iowa–Grant answered back with a run of its own in the bottom half of the inning, but never scored against Juda/Albany junior ace Nickole Becker, who struck out eight and allowed just three hits in the complete game victory.
“Juda/Albany simply outplayed us in each aspect of the game,” said Iowa–Grant head coach Deanna Fulton. “Becker threw the ball well and located her pitches. I thought she threw a great game. Their runs in the first inning were unearned, but we came back in the bottom on the first to put us on the board. We threatened again in the fourth but our hits just didn’t find the holes. Juda played solid defense and made some good plays to shut us down.”
Senior Alexis Goecks bunted to lead off the game and reached on a throwing error by I–G third baseman Lexi Busse.
After a sacrifice bunt, senior Sara Jordan smashed an RBI double off the left field wall to drive in the game’s first run.
Senior Sayde McDermott walked and after Becker popped up to second base, Jordan to scored when Hailey Lammerer’s high fly ball to left field popped out of the glove of Taylor Liddicoat.
Iowa–Grant (21–4) got a run back in the bottom half of the inning when senior catcher Emma Liddicoat reached on a one-out walk, stole second and came in to score on senior first baseman Malery Peat’s bloop single to short centerfield.
Juda/Albany’s Haley Freitag and Riley Adkins hit back-to-back singles to begin the second. Emma Liddicoat gunned down Freitag at third base on an attempted sacrifice bunt, but Adkins came in to score on a fielder’s choice ground out by Chelsea Barkhalter when I–G narrowly missed turning an inning-ending double play.
Juda/Albany extended its lead to 4–1 in the third when Becker reached on an error and later scored on Sammi Detra’s RBI single to left field.
Iowa–Grant threatened in the fourth when senior shortstop Hannah Stevens singled and Peat walked to lead off the inning. But Stevens was called for runner interference on the next play when she ran into Juda/Albany shortstop Goecks while she was trying to field senior Maranda McCarthy’s ground ball for the second out.
Then Becker struck out Busse to end the threat. Iowa–Grant never got on base again. Becker retired the final 11 batters she faced. Becker also aided her own cause with a two-run triple to right center in the top of the seventh to push across a pair of insurance runs.
The Juda/Albany Panthers advance to face fifth-ranked Phillips (21–1) in a D4 state semifinal Thursday at 9 p.m. Juda/Albany also went to state in 2015.
Iowa–Grant, which has never qualified for the state softball tournament, finished its fantastic season 21–4 overall after going 13–1 SWAL play to win the conference title.
The I–G Panthers graduate nine seniors including, starting catcher Emma Liddicoat, starting left fielder Taylor Liddicoat, pitcher Maranda McCarthy, shortstop Hannah Stevens, first baseman Malery Peat, right fielder Lauren Winkler, and reserves Jessica Pluemer, Jaynie Rule and Marie Diver.
“I remember telling the girls a few times that softball practice is the best part of my day and I meant it,”added Fulton. “I am very thankful for this group of nine seniors that lead this team both on and off the field. The underclassman learned quickly what the expectations were and pushed this team to the next level. It was an amazing season and one that will always be remembered. It’s the first time Iowa–Grant softball has been conference champions, regional champions and sectional finalists in the same season in my coaching tenure. This 2017 Iowa–Grant softball team had an amazing season and I am proud of each and every one of them!”
Iowa–Grant advanced to Thursday’s sectional final with a 13–3 five-inning victory over fourth-seeded Wisconsin Heights.
The Panthers slugged started slowly, which became a trend throughout the postseason, and fell behind 3–0 when Keith hit a three-run homer in the top of the first.
But I–G belted four homers of their own in the game to come roaring back for the 10-run rule victory. Stevens, McCarthy, Busse and freshman Olivia Liddicoat each went deep in the victory. Busse’s solo dinger in the third made it 5–3. Stevens’ blast was a grand slam in the third-inning that gave the Panthers a 10–2 lead.
McCarthy hit a solo homer in the fourth and also had a two-run double in the bottom of the first. Liddicoat also hit a solo homer in the fourth.
Junior Katie Olson’s RBI single ended the game via the run-rule.
WIAA Division 4 sectional semifinal
#1 Iowa–Grant 13, #4 Wisconsin Heights 3
(from Tuesday, May 30 @ Cobb)
Wisc. Heights 300 00 — 3 5 1
Iowa–Grant 226 21 — 13 11 1
Leading hitters — WH: Keith 2x3; IG: Hannah Stevens 2x3, Katie Olson 2x3, Maranda McCarthy 2x2, Olivia Liddicoat 2x2. 2B — IG: McCarthy, O. Liddicoat, Malery Peat. HR — WH: Keith; IG: Stevens, McCarthy, O. Liddicoat, Lexi Busse.
W — Maranda McCarthy (21–3, 5IP, 5H, 3ER, 4K, 4BB). L — Kraemer (4IP, 6H, 12R, 7ER, 5K, 5BB).
WIAA Division 4 sectional final
#1 Juda/Albany 6, #1 Iowa–Grant 1
(from Thursday, June 1 @ Darlington)
Juda/Albany 211 000 1 — 6 8 0
Iowa–Grant 100 000 0 — 1 3 4
Leading hitters — J/A: Chelsea Burkhalter 2x3. 2B — J/A: Chelsea Burkhalter, Jordan. 3B —J/A: Nickole Becker.
W — Nickole Becker (7IP, 3H, 1ER, 8K, 2BB). L — Maranda McCarthy (21–4, 7IP, 8H, 6R, 3ER, 4K, 3BB).