An ostentatious Iowa City Liberty softball team made a lot of noise with a home run by the second batter of the game.
A determined Demon team came back to score a run in the bottom of the second inning to tie at at 1-1.
Two good teams battled in a well-played gane until the end of this Class 4A Region first-round game Thursday in Washington.
But the 2019 Washington season came to an end when Liberty escaped with a 3-1 victory.
The Lightning (20-21) advance to play at No. 11 Cedar Rapids Xavier (24-16), a team it swept at Cedar Rapids (8-4 and 11-10) June 27.
Washington’s season ends with a mark of 22-15.
“If you had told me that we would hold them to three runs, I would’ve been pretty happy with our chances,” Washington head coach Ben Obermann said. “We had chances tonight. I am really really proud of our girls. There is nothing that I would change about tonight or our season. They battled to the very end. Sometimes you just come out on the short end of the stick.”
Kaitlyn Mitchell striped a double with one out in the bottom of the second inning for the Demons. Molly Sparks put the ball in play and Mitchell scored to tie the game as Sparks reached on an error. the demons got runners on second and third with two out, but the inning ended on a ground out.
“The last week and a half, we have not been able to hit runners in when they get on,” Obermann said. “It’s important to get hot at the right time of year. It’s important to get a hit at the right time of the game.”
Liberty took a 2-1 lead in the fourth inning with a single, a sacrifice and a double.
Washington answered in the fifth inning with a single by Cara Linnenkamp to start the frame and a single by RyLee Fishback. Cameron Malichky sacrificed the runners to second and third, brin ging up Kellie Dallmeyer, who leads the Demons with a .464 batting average. She was intentionally walked.
“I am not the sharpest tack in the box, but I know you don’t let let the best player on the other team beat you,” Liberty head coach Jeff Kelley said. “It was out of respect for her and her talent that I made that decision. Washington has some good kids on that team.”
The strategy paid off with a strikeout and a pop up to end the threat.
“Where the game was decided, to me, was when we had the bases loaded with one out and did not score,” Obermann said. “If we get a base hit there, we take the lead and we are talking about a victory. Our girls have come up clutch all year and it just did not happen for us tonight.”
The strategy worked for Washington as well. In the sixth inning, a walk and a single put two on base with one out. A ground out brought up the top of the order and Obermann chose to intentionally walk her. The inning ended with a pop out.
The bottom of the sixth started with Haylee Wilson’s second hit of the game, a double. Mitchell drew a walk and Sparks sacrificed them to second and third with the inning’s first out. Linnencamp battled through a long at bat when she fouled off numerous pitches. A wild pitch went to the backstop and Wilson sprinted for home.
“That was a 50-50 call on that at the plate,” Obermann said. “The ball hit the one spot that you don’t want it to and it found its way straight back to the catcher.”
The catcher caught it and dove at the sliding Wilson, taking her cleats in the hand. The umpire ruled Wilson out.
“We did not lose this game on umpire calls by any means, but we did not get a single 50-50 call the entire night,” Obermann said. “But that did not decide the game.”
Linnekamp was still at bat and eventually struck out to end the inning.
The Lightning scored a run in the seventh inning with a single that Dallmeyer made a valiant leaping effort to snag.
“I think the turning point of the game was our home run,” Kelley said. “Anytime you are in a first-round game like this, the tensions are really hot. That homer, I think it helps the kids relax.”
“I disagree with that 100 percent,” Obermann said. “You’re not going to win or lose the game in the first inning. I thought the way our girls battled was incredible. I think the turning point was when they got that bloop single in the seventh inning.”
In the Demons seventh, Fishback reached base for the third time in the game. Dallmeyer singled with one out and Kinsey Duwa sacrificed the runners to second and third but a pop up ended the Washington season.
“I still think we are a team that is good enough to make the state tournament,” Obermann said. “I thought we had the toughest, deepest regional in Class 4A. We were playing a team that’s going to be 5A next year. I can’t fault my kids effort. We had good approaches at the plate and a great effort. It just did not go our way.”
Any time a team gets over 20 wins playing a tough schedule, it has to be considered a successful year. It was the first time in four seasons, the Demons lost their first postseason game.
“We had a lot of great things from a lot of different players this season,” Obermann said. “We have a good core coming back next year. It sure hurts right now. This will fuel the fire for our returning girls.”