FORT DODGE, Iowa — The Newell-Fonda softball players are no strangers to the state championship game, and after their win over Southeast Warren on Wednesday at the Rogers Sports Complex in Fort Dodge, the Mustangs will have the chance to get acquainted with it again.
Newell-Fonda clinched its spot at Thursday’s Class 1A state title game with a 7-3 win over the Warhawks. With the victory, the Mustangs will be making the program’s first state finals appearance since 2010.
While it has been awhile for the Mustangs on the diamond, a sizeable chunk of the roster has played on the big stage before.
Twelve members of the Newell-Fonda squad were members of the school’s girls basketball team this past year, which won its second consecutive Class 1A title with a 66-52 win over Bishop Garrigan in the state championship game.
Now, they will get the chance to earn the program’s second ever softball title, with the first one coming back in 2008.
“They’ve been in big games and pressure situations,” Newell-Fonda coach Courtney Darrow said. “They always stay calm and relaxed and they know they’ve got to take care of business. They’re in that spot, and they want a softball one.”
Southeast Warren struck first in Wednesday's game, as Warhawks' first baseman Josie Hartman led off the game with a double against Mustangs' starter Kierra Jungers. The next batter, Brooklyn Page, reached base on an infield single and then took second on a throwing error by Mustangs third baseman Sophie Stewart. On the play, Hartman scored to give the Warhawks a 1-0 lead.
Newell-Fonda tied the game in the top of the second inning, as designated player Anna Bellcock led off with a single, with Isabel Bartek then filling in as the courtesy runner. After Bartek took second on a passed ball, Stewart laced the ball to right field, allowing Bartek to score. On the play, Stewart was thrown out on a 9-3 putout. Nevertheless, the play tied the game at 1-1.
The Mustangs added two more in the third inning as Mia Walker scored from second base on an error from SE Warren left fielder Kaylee Tignor. Ella Larsen and Maggie Walker both singled to load the bases, and Bellcock then drew a walk to force in the Mustangs’ third run.
Warhawks pitcher Alivia Ruble escaped further damage in the inning by striking out Mary Walker and coaxing a flyout from Stewart, as the Mustangs left the bases loaded.
But the Mustangs made up for it by plating four runs in the fourth inning on two hits, a walk, an error, and a passed ball. After McKenna Sievers reached base on a dropped third strike, Kinzee Hinders came in to pinch run. Hinders then advanced to third on a double to right field from Bailey Sievers, and scored on another dropped third strike play.
Bailey Sievers scored later in the inning on an error, and the Mustangs added two more on an RBI single from Bellcock. Through four innings, the Mustangs led, 7-1.
Offensively, the Mustangs managed eight hits against Ruble. Senior Ella Larsen, Bellcock, and sophomore Mia Walker all had two hits in the game, and seven separate Mustangs’ players scored a run.
In the circle, Jungers continued her dominant season with a strong outing in the semifinals. After allowing a run in the first, Jungers struck out five consecutive batters, and didn’t allow another hit until the fourth. She allowed multiple runners to reach in both the fourth and sixth, but ended both frames without any damage done.
She struck out Emma King to end the fourth, and caught a line drive from Southeast Warren sophomore Kaylee Tignor to wipe out a potential Warhawks' rally in the sixth.
Jungers allowed two runs to score in the top of the seventh, as Warhawks' sophomore Bre Nolte drove in a pair with an RBI double to center field. But Jungers got the next batter, Makayla Ruble, to pop out to catcher Maggie Walker to close out the four-run win.
Jungers allowed nine hits in the game, and finished the day with seven strikeouts.
“I was expecting a lot of hits, because I know they like to put the ball in play,” Jungers said. “It was just one pitch at a time. That was my focus.”
Jungers came into the game with a 0.79 ERA, a 0.99 WHIP, and a walks to strikeout ratio of 25 to 251.
“She is awesome,” senior Bailey Sievers said. “She has so much confidence on the mound and she is such a great pitcher. I am so lucky to have her as a teammate.”
The Mustangs will play Lisbon for the Class 1A state title at 5 p.m. Thursday.
Darrow has no doubt that her team will be ready.
“We’re just going to enjoy this one, watch a little bit of the Wayne/Lisbon game, and see what they have to offer,” Darrow said. “Come (Thursday), we are just going to be ready to go.”