Jena Lawrence handed the ball off to MacKenna Jones in the fourth inning to finish Albia’s game against North Polk on the mound. Then in the eighth inning, she ended the game with a heart-stopping three-run walk-off homerun to send the Lady Dees back to the state tournament for the third straight year.
It was not how the Dees had scripted this night, hosting its first Regional finals against 12th rated North Polk. Before the game, Coach Jim Keegel quietly remembered losing two substate final games to North Polk in baseball and another game in the state tournament. “Sure would be nice to get them back,” he said.
That didn’t look like it would happen at all early on. Lawrence struggled early to find the strike zone. A walk to dangerous leadoff hitter Ellie Owen and a wild pitch led to an RBI single by Hannah Foster giving North Polk a 1-0 lead. Albia came right back in the bottom of the first, loading the bases on an error and hits by Alex Beard and Lawrence, but a third to first ground out by Jones and a strikeout by Abbey Griffin ended the inning.
Lawrence had a great second inning, striking out two and forcing a grounder to Kennedy Schroeder at short, but Albia fans were stunned in the third when North Polk got back to the top of their order with one out, Owens walked again, Foster doubled, #3 hitter Trisha Spora singled and clean-up hitter Sydney Anderson doubled to drive in three runs, giving North Polk a 4-0 lead.
“As coaches we were concerned, but the girls weren’t rattled at all,” said Coach Jani Dorpinghaus. “They just went back to work.”
The game turned into long ball in the bottom of the third when Beard uncorked a solo home run, Lawrence reached on an error and Griffin crushed a pitch over the scoreboard in centerfield to close the gap to 4-3.
Lawrence walked the leadoff batter in the fourth, then forced two grounders to Rylee Leshen at third base. “We had already talked about giving the ball to MacKenna when North Polk reached the top of their order,” said Coach Darren Hill. “Even with two out, we knew we needed to give them another look.”
North Polk’s top four batters were six for eight at the time with four runs scored. Jones struck out lead off hitter Owens to end the inning. She struck out the #2 and #3 hitters in the fifth, walked the clean-up hitter and forced the #5 to pop up to Schroeder at shortstop.
In Albia’s fourth, Leshen drilled a ball to the fence for a stand-up double and Taylee Wolfer scored on a double by Schroeder to tie the game 4-4.
The game went into the sixth with Jones in control, but the sophomore gave up a walk to Hailey Steffen and threw a pitch over the center of the plate to #7 hitter Bailey Huffhem who deposited it over the fence giving North Polk a 6-4 lead.
Albia answered back in their half of the sixth. Ross walked and stole second, Beard laced an RBI single, Lawrence moved Allie Major to third, Jones reached first on an error on North Polk’s sophomore relief pitcher and Griffin hit into an error on the pitcher. The result was two runs in and the game tied at 6-6.
Jones took out North Polk in order in the seventh with fly balls to Danica Workman in centerfield, Ross at first and Schroeder at short, but Albia bats were quieted in the seventh by Chloe Dougherty’s off speed, outside the plate pitching. It was helped along by a nifty double play by the Comets.
The game went into extra innings and after a walk to the leadoff hitter, Jones struck the next three batters out.
That brought Ross to the plate and she laced a sharp single to right field. Danged if you do, danged if you don’t could have been the motto for Coach Lynette Foster. The Comet coach intentionally walked Beard who was already three for four on the night with a homerun and two RBI.
Which brought Lawrence to the plate. On an 0-1 count, the junior crushed a pitch to the right side of the field. The minute the ball left her bat everybody at the Monroe County Sports Complex knew it was gone. A three-run home run and Albia’s ticket punched for the third straight time to the state tournament in Fort Dodge.
“It wasn’t the game we expected, but our girls never panicked, never got down on themselves when they trailed by four,” said Dorpinghaus.
“We’re really proud of our pitchers,” added Coach Hill. “It’s all about the team. Jena threw really well and handed the ball to MacKenna who was a rock.”
As good as the Comet first four in the batting line-up were, Albia was better. Schroeder was on base twice with an RBI double. Ross walked, singled and scored twice. Beard had three hits, a home run and two RBI. Lawrence had two singles, a three-run homer and reached base on an error.
Griffin had two hits including a two-run homer and legged out an error. Leshen doubled and her replacement runner, Wolfer scored to tie the game at four.
Lawrence pitched the first four and two-thirds innings, giving up four runs on four hits, two walks and struck out four. Jones got the win, pitching four and a third innings, givingup two runs on one hit, walking two and striking out five.