Sparks throws shutout, hits walk-off as demons win tournament

By Doug Brenneman, JOURNAL Sports

The regular season is just practice for the postseason. Any coach will say that wins are nice but unimportant in the regular season and ultimately important in the postseason.

Washington High School has its softball team rounding in to shape with improved defense and a ?free-agent acquisition.?

The Demons have won five straight games after claiming the title Saturday in their own softball tournament.

Washington, which has a record of 11-17, edged South Tama 4-3 in the morning and blanked Charles City 4-0 in the afternoon. Charles City (19-9) is a team Washington had lost to earlier in the season.

?Pitching and defense were absolutely outstanding all day,? Washington head coach Ben Obermann said. ?I couldn?t ask for anything more from the girls. We are finally rolling in the right direction.?

Kinsey Duwa returned to the team Monday after recovering from an injury. She had a hit in each of Saturday?s games and patrolled center field.

?It?s like signing a free agent in the middle of the year,? Obermann said. ?It?s been great having our centerfielder back. She has been chomping at the bit, trying to get back. She has really worked hard at it.?

Washington got behind 3-0 to South Tama.

?We had to battle back after that one bad inning we had,? Obermann said. ?Offensively we hit into some tough luck but I thought we were taking good approaches at the plate.? Duwa scored in the bottom of the second on a Kellie Dallmeyer single. A Dallmeyer double in the sixth inning scored Alexa Mitchel, who had singled, and Duwa, who had walked.

Mitchell singled with an out in the seventh inning, then Molly Sparks ended the game with a two-out, run-scoring double.

?Our girls are tough. They stuck to it,? Obermann said. ?We have come from behind before so it was nice to see.?

Mitchell gave up five hits, no walks and set down seven on strikeouts in the complete-game win.

Sparks got the win in the afternoon. She threw the complete-game shutout, allowing just three hits and no walks with two strikeouts.

?As long as we play solid defense and the pitchers are attacking the strike zone, if we keep playing like that, we will be tough to beat,? Obermann said.

The last three outs of the second game were indicative of the Washington defensive improvement over the year. Morgan Brinning made the first out as she backpedaled furiously then leapt into the air to snag a line drive. Duwa ran down a long fly ball for the second out. The third out was a blooper between second base and right field. Halle Leyden had a bead on it but so did right fielder Mitchell. The two communicated well and Mitchell made the catch for the final out and the win.

?All three of those were great to see,? Obermann said. ?The communication thing is something we have really been working on with the infielders and outfielders. I can?t think of a better shortstop in our area than Morgan. Getting Kenzie back in the field helps in a lot of ways. It gives us so many more options. She always gets a great jump on the ball. It seems like she just glides out there. Knowing you have great defense makes it a lot easier on my pitchers.?

The Demons have made some errors in the past.

?That?s where we want to make a difference,? Obermann said. ?We want to limit a team to three outs. We cannot give them extra outs during any innings.?

Sparks put the first run on the board in the second game when she doubled home Haylee Wilson in the fourth inning. Sparks then scored on a single by Cara Linnenkamp.

?In the first game we hit into a lot of hard luck but we talked about it and if we continue doing it, then the luck will change our way,? Obermann said. ?As long as we stay with the mindset that we want to have quality at-bats and put the ball in play hard on the ground and hard on the line, then good things are going to happen.?

Dallmeyer singled in the fifth inning and scored on a Brinning hit for a 3-0 lead. Mitchell doubled in the sixth inning and scored on Duwa?s single.

The Demons had lost 10-9 earlier in the season at Central City.

?They are good solid team,? Obermann said. ?They presented a good challenge. They have a lot of speed on the bases and they will use that to test you. That was a good nonconference opponent for us to play. We learned a little bit from our earlier game with them. They took three or four of those extra bases on us. We talked about that and our girls did a better job communicating.?

The Wildcats tried that just once Saturday and were thrown out at second in the attempt.

The Demons have been working on things they can control, like hitting. ?We can control our mechanics, how hard we had it, where we had it to,? Obermann said.

The Demons play at Keokuk (10-15 overall, 5-5 SEC) today.

?Getting back into conference play, we are going to bring good energy and be focused,? Obermann said. ?It?s never easy to go down there and play. We need to be a little bit better offensively but as long as we keep pitching and playing defense like we have been, the offense will come.?