SIOUX CITY | Morningside’s Abby Conner was still shaking in the aftermath of one of her biggest hits of the season.
Conner smacked a two-out, two-RBI double to the left field fence in the bottom of the seventh inning. McKenzie Anderson and Elin Landgren scored on the play to give the nation’s ninth-ranked squad a 3-2, walk-off win over Dordt Saturday afternoon in the title game of the Great Plains Athletic Conference’s Morningside Bracket at the Jensen Softball Complex.
“The best I could do was make contact with the ball,” said Conner. “That was my goal. We at least wanted to get one run, but we ended up getting two out of it. It was a good thing.”
Top-seeded Morningside (38-8) will face second-seeded Hastings (34-21) Monday in the GPAC Tournament Championship Tournament Series. A 7-5 winner over third-seeded Concordia in the finals of the bracket it hosted, Hastings and Coach Jessica Jones-Sitzmann’s Mustangs will begin a best two out of three format at 11 a.m. Monday.
Morningside trailed fourth-seeded Dordt 2-1 going into the home half of the seventh. Anderson singled, took second on Mara Amsberry’s sacrifice bunt, reached third on Landgren’s single, but the sense of urgency which the Mustangs took into the inning continued when Tracey Edwards lined out to shortstop Marissa VandenBerg.
“It was a great game all-around,” said Jones-Sitzmann. “Dordt played great. We were hitting the ball and they were making great plays. We talked that it was going to come down to one big hit or a big play that’s going to win the ball game. And that’s what it was.”
Morningside had been hitting the ball directly at Dordt’s defense throughout the game. VandenBerg, for instance, leaped to rob Landgren of a possible two-run single to end the Mustangs’ second inning.
Two frames later, left fielder Carley DeRoin made a running catch that denied Allie Martinez a leadoff single. Then in the fifth, third baseman Rachel Evavold dove to catch Rachel Koch’s line shot to begin a double play which ended when she fired a strike to first baseman Michal Huizenga.
Edwards tried to retreat to first, but was halfway to second on Evavold's stab.
“I was asked a question last week, what was one area we improved the most over the season,” said Dordt Coach Jeff Zomer, whose 21-20 team advanced to the title game with a 2-1 win over Doane, a game where DeRoin had two hits, including the game-winner that drove pinch-runner Jennifer Kooiker home in the bottom of the sixth.
“Without hesitation, I said, defensively. To Morningside’s credit, they were hitting shots at us all over the field and we just continued to make plays. What it led to was an unbelievable softball game. We came here today to compete. A ton of credit to our girls, we were motivated.”
Pinch runner Stephanie Westra scored on the first of Tessa Howerzl’s game-high three hits, an RBI single in the second inning to give Dordt a 1-0 lead. The Defenders extended their lead an inning later as Ashley Williams (Lawton-Bronson) singled and scored on Haley Heeringa’s sacrifice fly, aided by Koch’s right field throwing error.
Dordt pitcher Tianna Top, who scattered seven hits and struck out four against Doane, lost her shutout in the fifth when Landgren scored an unearned run on Conner’s sacrifice fly. However, Top (14-9) continued her second stretch of five consecutive retired on Koch’s double-play grounder and extended it into the sixth.
Half of Morningside’s six hits occurred in the decisive seventh inning.
Had the Mustangs not scored, a second championship game would have been contested.
“We were definitely stressed out to go this deep into the game without being able to hit like we normally do,” said Conner. “To come out and win this game means a lot. I’ve been part of a team here that has done this before, but to be that person that hits the ball, it’s very special. I’ll never forget this.”
Winning pitcher Rachel Henks (32-9) scattered seven hits and walked two while striking out four. Her coach has seen different players contribute clutch hits throughout the season.
Saturday, it was Conner’s turn, as her second hit of the game made her 6-for-8 with 8 RBIs in the tournament’s two-day run.
“We were assuming those kids had to make those great plays, but we kept hitting at-them balls,” said Jones-Sitzmann. “I told them, keep swinging at it, something’s going to fall. We got people on and I told Abby, don’t get cheated. She just swung the ball and got that big hit.”