FORT DODGE -- After two years of near-misses, playing at home just might have been the final piece of the puzzle for the Alta-Aurelia softball team.
The Warriors suffered big heartbreak in a regional final in 2016 as they rallied to take a 5-4 lead over Logan-Magnolia in the top of the seventh only to lose the game on a weather technicality. The game was called due to heavy rain forcing the score to revert to the last completed inning giving Lo-Ma the 4-2 win.
Last year, Alta-Aurelia fell to Central Springs 5-1 in a regional final despite pitcher Abby Kraemer allowing just three hits.
"It was definitely motivation because they knew, especially two years ago, when it rained out and reverted back they knew we could do this," Alta-Aurelia coach Dave Turnquist said. "Last year we traveled a long ways and that is no excuse, but we really wanted to do it at home this year.
"As the season went we had two goals. One to win conference and the other was to have home-field advantage. They really focused on that and once we got it we had to take care of it."
Monday, the Warriors eliminated any suspense with a 5-2 win over Hull Western Christian to claim their first trip to the state tournament.
"We have been (at the regional final) three times with these same girls and we were hoping to get it done," Turnquist said. "I liked how their attitudes were coming in, loose but not too loose.
"The girls were looking forward to the crowd ... and I could not believe how many people where there. It was amazing and they were fired up."
The third-seeded Warriors (22-3) will look to carry that momentum into their first-round Class 2A state tournament game Monday against sixth-seeded and defending state champion Iowa City Regina (23-15).
Alta-Aurelia will lean on Kraemer who is second in the state in strikeouts with 341. A year ago she led the state with 381 punchouts.
"This is a big stage for her and she has always wanted to be on that stage," Turnquist said. "In the past she maybe made it too big in the regional finals, and this year being there twice you could tell she just had a different attitude of I am just going to do my job.
"This year is a whole different ballgame because she is so much stronger mentally. It just took time."
Kraemer has pitched every game for her team this season.
Even though his team is making its state debut, Turnquist is preaching for his players to do what they have all season to get to this point.
"We have to keep doing the things that we have done," he said. "The pitching has been amazing so just keep pitching and doing what you have been doing there. The hitting is getting runners on, move them over, move them in. Don't do anything special, we don't need the five-run home run."
The Warriors are led at the plate by junior Brittany Turnquist, the coach's daughter, who is hitting .500 at the plate and has been successful in 22 of 23 stolen base attempts. Senior Lily Peterson is hitting .492, has smacked 13 home runs and has a team-high 40 RBIs. Juniors Rowan Kolpin and Jessica Flaherty are also hitting over .400.
Regina, which has won two of the past three Class 2A state titles, is riding a six-game winning streak into state having shut out its last five opponents.
Senior Paisley Gardner is hitting .415 and is 5-0 on the mound with a 1.47 ERA.
"They have been state champions and they lost their pitcher, but like all good teams it is next one in," coach Turnquist said. "Runs will be at a premium and it will be for them too. Now it just comes down to execution at the right time."