By Doug Brenneman,
NEWTON ? It was a classic softball game befitting the postseason. It was well played and well coached.
Washington just came up on the short end of a 3-1 loss to 10th-ranked Newton in an Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union Class 4A regional semifinal.
?We did not quite get the job done,? Washington coach Ben Obermann said. ?We had solid defensive play, we were solid in the pitching circle, it was a good softball game. Unfortunately we just could not come out on top. It was no fault to our kids? effort. I could not be more proud of them.?
The Demons battled until the very end, getting the winning run to the plate in the seventh inning before a called third strike ended the game and the Washington season.
Washington?s Megan Mitchell, who had singled in the fourth inning, led off the seventh and was hit by a pitch. She advanced to second on a wild pitch. With a 3-0 count and no outs, Newton assistant coach Gary Grimes, whose daughter Casey Price is the head coach, went to the mound for a conference with pitcher Peyton Maher.
?I just told her to keep her composure,? Grimes said. ?I wanted her to settle down and things would be just fine. She handled it, but she has a tendency to get excited. We were in a situation where we needed an out.?
Maher got that out with a fly ball, and then a second fly out. Both were hard hit, the first by Kaitlyn Mitchell, then Haylee Wilson. No. 8 batter in the lineup Alexa Mitchell was walked, putting two on with two out.
?Our No. 9 hitter, Kenzie (Duwa), gets rung up on a borderline pitch,? Obermann said. ?She sees pitches well. Maybe it was a strike, it could?ve been a ball, either way it?s a 50-50 pitch and we are feeling pretty good if we can get to the top of the order with Kellie (Dallmeyer) coming up to bat. I feel like we are going to get a big hit there. That?s how close we are.?
Dallmeyer, Washington?s lead-off batter, had given the Demons a great start to the game when she lashed a double to left field, advanced to third on Molly Sparks? sacrifice bunt and scored on a wild pitch.
The Demons wouldn?t get another runner to second base against Maher until the last inning.
?I could not be more proud of the kids and how they battle,? Obermann said. ?Against that caliber of pitcher who has a sub 1 ERA on the year, we went up there with good approaches. We hit some balls hard. We had a couple of scoring chances we did not capitalize on.?
The Cardinals scored a run in the first inning but could have had more. Stellar defense by the Demons got the first out of the inning when a Cardinal tried to go from first base to third on a bunt and was gunned down on a throw from Wilson to Kaitlyn Mitchell. The Cardinals were able to make it 1-1 on a RBI-double.
It was 2-1 after the third inning and 3-1 after the fifth.
Another reason the Cardinals didn?t score more was a strategy Obermann employed of intentionally walking the No. 5 hitter, Emily Valtman, who was batting .500 on the season with a .600 on-base percentage and a .963 slugging percentage with 20 extra-base hits including seven home runs.
?We identified her as a girl we were not going to let beat us,? Obermann said. ?Sometimes that strategy pays off, sometimes not, but it worked out tonight.?
Three times she was gifted first base and three times the next girl to bat made the third out of the inning.
Sparks gave up six hits, three walks and struck out one. She threw just 61 pitches in the game. Only two of the runs were earned.
?When you think about the season as a whole, we were 6-17 and won 11 of 15 to end the season,? Obermann said. ?We won a share of the conference title.?
A turning point in the season was getting everyone healthy.
?We made some changes defensively that shored up some things and we did not beat ourselves,? Obermann said. ?Hitting-wise, we were good all season long. I just think the girls learned to trust themselves. They believed they could be a solid team and proved it with a conference championship. I think we started clicking at the right time on all cylinders. We focused on the present. Good things happen when you don?t worry about the past. We didn?t worry about the future, we just worried about the here and now.?
There were numerous changes to the batting order throughout the season as well as positions in the field.
?We tried to play the hot lineup and the hot hand,? Obermann said. ?We were not afraid to change things around. The girls always bought in to wherever they were at.?
Newton now has a record of 24-6 and plays Tuesday, hosting Fairfield, a 6-4 winner over sixth-ranked Oskaloosa (27-8), for the right to go to state.
Washington ends the year at 17-23.