ALTA, Iowa — Alta-Aurelia softball coach Dave Turnquist liked the group of players he had coming back from the Warriors’ first-ever state tournament team.
There were holes to fill.
Lily Peterson, who hit 13 home runs last season, graduated as did Alicia Turnquist. Annika Patton, a two-time individual state golf champion and a Northern Iowa golf recruit, decided not to go out this season to focus on golf. Another player moved out of the area.
But the team still returned two key hitters — Brittany Turnquist and Jessica Flaherty — along with pitcher Abby Kraemer.
Dave Turnquist built the rest of the team around them and the Warriors won seven of their first eight games to start the season.
Alta-Aurelia earned the top seed the Class 2-Region 4 bracket and advanced to the region final, facing off against West Sioux.
Alta-Aurelia (19-9) broke a tie game in the sixth with two runs and is going to state for the second straight season after a 5-3 win on Monday.
“It feels great. Getting (to state) the first time is always tough,” Dave Turnquist said. “Now to repeat means a lot, too. Now we know it wasn’t a fluke and we can do this.”
Kraemer was almost overwhelmed with emotion after the team qualified for state for the second straight season.
“I don’t even know how to put it into words,” Kraemer said. “All this hard work is finally paying off. We knew it was going to be hard but I am really proud of the hard work these girls put in. It’s a great feeling.”
Flaherty hit a triple to lead-off the game and scored the first run after Brittney Turnquist’s RBI single. Flaherty added a two-out RBI in the second to score Mallorie Jacobson. Sierra Hall hit a two-out single in the third to score Jessica Larson for a 3-0 lead.
West Sioux scored a run in the fifth and two in the sixth to tie the game.
Alta-Aurelia’s rally started with Westphal, the sophomore No. 9 hitter. She tried to bunt but didn’t get it down. However, she singled to right field to get on.
“With the three seniors coming up behind her, I felt good that they were going to drive her in and they did,” Turnquist said.
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West Sioux did get a fly ball for the first out when Brittany Turnquist drew a walk and Kraemer singled to load the bases.
Angela Lopez hit a sharp ground ball to short, which was misplayed. Westphal scored on the play and Turnquist went to third. Jessica Larson followed with a sacrifice fly and Alta-Aurelia was back up by two, 5-3, going into the seventh.
The error was the fourth of the game for West Sioux, which saw its season end with a 24-7 record. The fourth errors led to four unearned runs for Alta-Aurelia.
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“That hurt us a lot early in the game. We were beating ourselves up way too much. I think we had a lot of nerves,” West Sioux coach Kaitlyn Lockhorst said. “As time goes, the girls get better with it. Their fight and determination all season has been amazing. This team doesn’t give up.”
West Sioux did try to rally after Alta-Aurelia took the lead in the sixth. Kraemer struck out the leadoff batter and got a fly ball for the second out.
But Shayden Blankenship and Emily Hulshof drew back-to-back walks to keep the Falcons hopes alive.
Kraemer bounced back and got a popup to end the threat to send the Warriors back to Fort Dodge.
“The big thing is having that senior pitcher. She had some walks earlier in the game and sometimes a younger pitcher will struggle with that,” Turnquist said. “She came back and you could tell she took over with that final batter to get this thing down now. It’s just senior leadership with her and the other seniors.”
ALTA, Iowa – When Lily Peterson got comfortable receiving pitches she started sending them a long way.
Kraemer, a Dordt University recruit who has more than 1,400 strikeouts in her career, retired the first six batters in the game and didn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning. She finished with nine strikeouts and only allowed two hits against a West Sioux team that is batting .340 on the season.
Turnquist did visit the circle before the final batter but Kraemer said he only had one key thing to say.
“All he really said was ‘let’s get back to Dodge’ and that’s exactly what we did,” Kraemer said.