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Lady Spartans take third

Solon comes back once again against Boy-Hull/Rock Valley
The Lady Spartans celebrate their 8-5 state tournament quarterfinal win Wednesday, July 20, in Fort Dodge over Collins-Maxwell-Baxter (CMB). Solon advanced to the semifinal round match up against Davenport Assumption on Thursday, July 21. (photo by Chris Umscheid)

FORT DODGE– If you’d have told Solon softball coach Jim White at the beginning of the year that his team would take third place in the state tournament, he’d have been ecstatic.
Denied a chance at the 3A title game, Solon’s Lady Spartans rebounded one last time for the 2016 season, defeating No. 11 Boy-Hull/Rock Valley, 6-3, in the third-place game at the state softball tournament Friday.
Solon, ranked No. 3, finished the year 34-10.
The Lady Spartans started the tournament July 20 by fending off No. 14 Collins-Maxwell/Baxter (CMB), 8-5, but then fell in dramatic fashion to No. 2 Davenport Assumption, 5-2, when a three-run home run with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning broke a 2-2 deadlock.
The semifinal loss dropped Solon into the consolation bracket and the third-place game against Boy-Hull/Rock Valley, with Assumption moving on to the 3A title. No. 1 Benton Community shut out Assumption, 8-0, for the 3A championship.
“Actually I thought we moved up a level,” White said. “I thought we played really well at the state tournament compared to the regional tournament.
“It was a really difficult tournament.”
According to White, the 3A bracket Solon faced had two of the best teams in all five classes.
“I would assume Benton was probably the best team in all five classes,” he said. “Assumption’s regular season they won a 5A conference by a long margin and the team that finished behind them was in the 5A finals.”
White was impressed with how well his team responded in the third place game.
The Lady Spartans made the most of their second life and scored all six of their runs in the second inning against Boy-Hull/Rock Valley’s Kaitl Van Der Zwagg.
“At breakfast, I knew we were going to play well,” White said. “I think they knew we’d given our best effort the day before and were within a few plays of a major, major upset.”
Solon’s McKenna Miller, pitching her third game in three days, allowed only five hits and held the Nighthawks scoreless until the bottom of the sixth inning.
“I thought McKenna really moved up a level and really threw the best of her entire career the last two games,” White commented.
Miller struck out four and didn’t walk a single batter, and helped her own cause with a bases-loaded two-run double in the second inning.
Freshman Taylor Moore had walked and senior Nichole Oberthien and sophomore Madison Rogers had singled to fill the bags ahead of Miller to start the second inning.
Miller’s double scored the first two runs of the game for Solon, and Skyler Stookey’s bunt single brought home pinch runner Calista Haasl to make it 3-0 with runners on second and third with nobody out.
Senior Sydney Lawson singled, scoring courtesy runners Molly Duckett and Taylor Ryan, and Lawson advanced to second on an error by right fielder Morgan Halbur.
Lawson then stole third in advance of an RBI single by Bryn Hanrahan to make it 6-0 Solon.
That’s the way it would stay until the bottom of the sixth.
Boy-Hull/Rock Valley’s Sammy Blum reached base on a Lady Spartan error to lead off the bottom half of the inning, and she promptly stole second. Successive groundouts brought Blum across the plate.
Two-out singles by Keely Swanson and Joanne Luevano put runners aboard ahead of a double by Sam Greene, and suddenly it was a 6-3 game.
With a runner on second and the potential tying run on deck, Solon’s Miller struck out Halbur to end the game and sew up the third place trophy for the Lady Spartans.
Hanrahan went 3-3 at the plate with an RBI, while Miller and Lawson had two RBI each. Rogers was 2-3 with a double. The Lady Spartans had 10 total hits, two walks and struck out six times against Van Der Zwagg. Both pitchers threw complete games.
“I was concerned the last game, coming back on such short turnaround time that maybe McKenna might need something,” White said, “but she you could just see in the first inning she was locked in again.”

It was hot and humid in Fort Dodge. Inclement weather postponed the first round of the 3A tournament by a day, but the end of the rain didn’t bring any relief from the humidity, and all three days of games were played while most of the state was under a heat advisory.
The hottest was Thursday, when the second- and third-ranked 3A teams met in a mid-day semifinal.
Davenport Assumption and Solon had been set to play in the regular season, but that May 27 matchup, despite being rescheduled once, never materialized until July 21 in Fort Dodge, and it was an emotional roller coaster.
The Lady Spartans were poised for an upset.
In spite of being limited to two hits, Solon led throughout the game, scoring a run without a hit in the top of the first inning and adding an insurance run in the top of the sixth on a solo shot by Jess Heick.
But Solon errors and two big swings by Assumption players resulted in some late-inning heroics for the Knights and a postseason loss for the Lady Spartans.
It started promising enough for Solon.
Lawson drew a walk off Assumption ace Nicole Timmons and proceeded to steal second and then third base. She scored on a sacrifice by Monika Bevans and Solon led, 1-0.
“That was huge,” White said. “To get out 1-0 and put the pressure on them.”
That’s the way it would stay as Miller scattered two hits across five innings to keep the Knights at bay, and Timmons maintained a no-hitter into the sixth inning.
Solon’s first hit of the game, Heick’s home run, came with two outs to make it 2-0.
Assumption, however, would also come through with two outs in the bottom of the inning.
After a fly ball and a strike-out, Assumption’s Ashley Ackerman reached on an error, leaving a runner on for Emma Valainis, whose two-out homer tied the game.
Assumption’s Carlie Samon reached on another Lady Spartan error, and a Nicole Yoder singled before Miller was able to induce a groundout by Kaitlyn Andresen to end the inning.
Miller’s one-out single in the top of the seventh gave Solon new life and a chance to retake the lead, but she was left stranded at first after a strike out and a groundout.
The door was open for Assumption and the Knights would take advantage.
After a groundout to Nichole Oberthien at first, Assumption’s Jana Miller reached on an error. The second out came on a fly ball and the Lady Spartans were one out away from extra innings when another Solon error put two aboard for Ashley Ackerman, who went yard for 3 RBI and a walk-off victory for Assumption.
The Lady Spartans ended up with five defensive errors, and 10 total in three games at the state tournament.
“Unfortunately, that’s who we were this year,” White said. “We weren’t a great defensive team and we had those numbers of errors probably all the way throughout.
“The only the difference in the Assumption game was we had played clean up until that point and time and then they all just seemed to happen right at the end,” he added.
Miller struck out four and walked two, giving up five hits total in the loss, just her fifth of the season.
“McKenna did a great job changing speeds, she was throwing three or four different speeds,” White said, keeping a powerful Assumption team off-balance for most of the game.
Timmons struck out 12 Solon batters and walked three while allowing just two hits in the win, moving her record to 20-3.
The Lady Spartans were led offensively throughout the series by Lawson, Hanrahan and Heick, who combined for 10 of the team’s 15 RBIs.
Hanrahan was 3-4 with a double and a two-run home run against CMB in the opening round 8-5 win, while Lawson was 3-4 with three runs scored. Heick was 1-2 with a solo shot and a walk.
Lawson and Hanrahan started Solon off on the right foot in the top of the first inning versus CMB.
Lawson singled to center and stole second, coming home on Hanrahan’s RBI double to left. Hanrahan moved to third on a Bevans groundout and came home when Heick reached base on an error. Heick stole third and scored on another error to make it 3-0 Solon.
CMB struck back in the bottom of the inning, stringing together three singles and a walk to cut the margin to a single run, but the Lady Spartans stormed back aggressively for three more runs in the top of the second.
Taylor Ryan singled with one out and stole second base, scoring on a subsequent single by Lawson, who advanced to second on the throw to home. Lawson swiped third but was able to take her time on the way to the plate as Hanrahan homered to make it 6-2.
With two out and two on in the bottom of the third, CMB would cut the lead on a single by Mikayla Houge, and another run scored on Solon’s second error of the inning.
Suddenly the deficit was a single run, 6-5.
But that’s as close as CMB would get.
Heick’s home run in the fifth inning was added insurance, and Lawson scored the final Solon run in the top of the seventh on an RBI single by Bevans.
“I am very proud of them, we accomplished quite a bit,” White said of his team’s performance. “We could’ve easily got beat in any of those games and the kids showed a lot of toughness and battled and we had to do things in a little different manner than we had in previous years, but a lot of exciting games, for sure.”