SLOAN, Iowa – Virtually unnoticed all season, the Le Mars Gehlen Catholic High School softball team is headed to the state tournament.
The unranked Jays toppled No. 13 Westwood 2-1 in an Iowa Class 1A regional final Monday night. It’s the second trip to state for Gehlen and the first since 2012.
“We were unranked all year and we played everyone that was good close,” Gehlen Coach Tony Gunter said. “We knew we were pretty decent. So we want to go over there and make a little noise maybe.”
Gehlen (21-9) will be a part of the 1A state tournament field at Rogers Sports Complex in Fort Dodge, playing a quarterfinal on Monday.
The youthful Jays scored both of their runs in the first inning and freshman pitcher Rylee Schnepf made them stand. Schnepf got out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the first, but after that settled in and allowed only four hits.
While Schnepf was doing her part, sophomore left fielder Tiffany Woerdehoff made the biggest defensive play of the game.
Westwood’s Brenna Pike lined a two-out double to the gap in left-center in the sixth inning. Aryanna DeRoin followed with a base hit to left, which Woerdehoff fielded cleanly and uncorked a perfect throw to the plate.
The throw arrived at about the same time pinch-runner Jaeden Ferris did and Gehlen catcher Addison Weber tagged Ferris out, preserving a 2-1 lead. Schnepf retired the side in order in the seventh.
“I was rattled in the first inning because I couldn’t really get it,” Schnepf said. “But when we scored and after a while we started hitting the ball, it was, like, ‘we can do this.’
“We really wanted this and we deserve it because we worked really hard this year.”
Gehlen avenged a 12-0 loss to Westwood on June 22, picking up its eighth straight victory since a 5-4 loss to perennial power Akron-Westfield on June 24. The Jays avenged the loss to A-W with a 9-5 regional semifinal victory last week.
Andee Martin didn't know exactly how she would fit in with her new teammates.
Alyssa Kolbeck and Katie Peters hit consecutive two-out doubles in the first inning for Gehlen. Northwestern College volleyball recruit Peters drove in the first run and scored the second on a single by Sydney Livermore.
Schnepf was fighting nerves in the bottom of the first, walking the leadoff batter and Gunter chose to intentionally walk two more to load the bases. Schnepf, though, got out of the jam by retiring DeRoin on a line smash to right field.
Andee Martin knocked in the only run for Westwood (30-11) in the third inning. Martin’s single plated Holly Holtz, a courtesy runner for pitcher Katelyn Martian, who rapped a two-out single.
Martian also had a stellar pitching performance. The senior didn’t allow a hit after the first inning, striking out seven.
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“It was a great softball game, both teams played well and we didn’t give up a hit after the first inning,” Westwood coach Dan Thompson said. “I thought we were under that play at the plate and that’s frustrating because then you have the go-ahead run at second base with a chane to take the lead.
“We didn’t make enough breaks. We had the bases loaded in the first, but those things happen. It wasn’t anything we did wrong, they just found a way to get one more than us.”
Gunter, in his third season as head softball coach at Gehlen, had confidence in his young pitcher.
“She’s been pitching and we’ve been playing great defense most of the year,” Gunter said. “Any time we get the lead I just want to hold on to it. But that was a heck of a ball game played by both teams.”
As for Woerdehoff’s game-saving throw from left field?
“We work on that all the time,” Gunter said. “It’s not always perfect but that one was and that’s what we needed at that time.”
Westwood had won 14 of its last 15 games. Several seniors on this team were members of the 2017 squad that finished third in the state tournament.