HIGHS AND LOWS
Spirit Lake's softball season ends one win shy of a state tournament berth
Postseason softball is a fickle mistress.
One minute you're riding high, a trip to the state tournament nearly in hand; the next, you're choking back tears as the opposition tosses their gloves in the air in celebration. The sporadic clatter of leather smacking gravel on the return trip to terra firma serving as your only applause.ß
Spirit Lake knows the moment all too well.
The 11th-ranked Indians led second-ranked Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley for 5 1/3 innings in Monday night's Class 3A Regional Tournament championship, but the Nighthawks rallied late, plating six runs in the sixth inning to win 6-2. It was the second time in three years that the Nighthawks ended the Indians' season a win shy of a state tournament berth.
"I was extremely proud of the girls and how they approached the game," Spirit Lake coach Rachel Fisher said. "We had a pretty specific game plan going into it for every single hitter. We kind of changed our hitting approach. We'd seen (BH/RV pitcher) Kaitlyn (Van Der Swaag) throw two times earlier in the season. We struck out too many times against her before. I was proud of how the girls looked more confident in the box. I heard the outfielders talking to the infielders. Everybody was asking where they were at in the lineup every single inning to make sure they knew where they were supposed to stand and what kind of pitches (Spirit Lake pitcher) Kelsey (Kannenberg) would be throwing. It was just really fun to see them work together like that."
Spirit Lake struck first on Monday, as Karli Olsen doubled to lead off the game and later scored on a sacrifice fly by Josie Fagen, making it a 1-0 Spirit Lake lead after one. Fagen struck again in the top half of the fourth, crushing a leadoff home run over the left field fence, giving her team a 2-0 lead, and sending the Spirit Lake faithful into a frenzy.
"That was awesome," Fisher said. "I couldn't be more happy or proud for her. That girl deserves all the success in the world. She hits on her own extra every day. She always has me pitch to her. She's just gotten better every single year of her career. That moment was awesome for her. I'm really glad she has that moment to look back on.
"At that point in the game, you thought it could be an even bigger home run than it was because our pitching and our defense were getting outs every inning," Fisher added. "If you've seen Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley play all year, you know that they're an explosive battling lineup. They haven't been shut out all season long. We knew we were going to have to continue to play rock solid defense, but that just didn't happen."
Spirit Lake pitcher Kelsey Kannenberg and the Indians defense were stingy through the first three innings, as the group didn't allow a single Nighthawk to reach base. A pair of walks in the bottom half of the fourth allowed the first BH/RV base runners aboard, but shortstop Payton Ahrenstorff made a heads up play to get an out at third and the Indians hauled in a foul tip to end the threat.
The Nighthawks suffered three quick outs once more in the bottom half of the fifth, but found success in the following frame.
Brianna Kleinwolterink drew a lead off walk and scored on an error for her team's first run of the contest. Back-to-back walks to Cassie Van Beek and Kaitlyn Van Der Swaag loaded the bags, and a host of Spirit Lake miscues and hard-hit balls by the Nighthawks scored four more runs to give the hosts a 6-2 lead.
"I thought Kelsey threw one of the best games of the entire season through those first five innings. Then, just a few unlucky thing happened in the sixth inning," Fisher said. "Starting the inning with a leadoff walk is never ideal, but Kelsey battled back and got us some ground balls that we just weren't able to execute. We knew that if we were going to win the game, we weren't going to be able to allow a big inning. Those things were going in our favor through five, but the sixth inning just wasn't good enough to win the game."
The Indians threatened in the top half of the seventh, as Hannah Brumley drew a leadoff walk and Kannenberg drew a two-out walk, but BH/RV senior Sammy Blum hauled in a pop fly for the game's final out, sending her team on to Fort Dodge.
The loss ends a terrific season for Spirit Lake. The Indians finished the year with a 26-9 overall record, a fourth straight Lakes Conference championship and a third regional championship appearance in four years.
"I think that no one on our team — no coach, no player — was ready to be done with the season," Fisher said. "We were having way too much fun together. Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley is a great team. I don't think it mattered who we played against in that regional final, we weren't wanting to lose or be done."
On Tuesday morning, Fisher said the saddest part of the Indians' Monday night loss was not going to the field for practice.
"This team loved being around each other. They're a group of girls that wanted to be at the field. They wanted to hang out with each other off the field," she said. "We laughed and joked around a lot, but when it came time to play, they got their game faces on and they were able to compete at the highest level. The toughest part of sports is when the season is over because you become so attached to the kids and they become so attached to each other. You're so used to going to the field every single day, especially in softball when the season is jam-packed into that six-week period. You're around each other all day, every day. To wake up and not go to the field and not have practice is the saddest part."
The driving force behind the Indians' season were seniors Maddie Richter, Olivia Peschon, Josie Fagen, Hannah Brumley and Kailee Jenness, who played their final prep game of their careers on Monday.
"Those seniors have put so much time and energy into the Spirit Lake softball program," Fisher said. "A lot of them have been contributing for three-plus years. Some of them were starting for the first time this year. I think a lot of people might have thought that we would have had a down year this year after losing six seniors from our team last year and those six seniors being starters for several years, but these seniors really stepped it up. They made everyone on our team believe that we were going to contend for the Lakes Conference, we were going to bust our butt to give ourselves a chance to make it to state. They made everyone believe that it was possible and we accomplished our goal of being Lakes Conference champions, and we were pretty much one inning away from making it to the state tournament."
Indians top Clear Lake in regional semifinal
Spirit Lake suffered a scare Friday in the regional semifinal against Clear Lake. The Lions took advantage of several Indians miscues in the first three innings to take a 4-0 lead.
However, the Indians responded with four runs in the third, three runs in the fourth and three more in the sixth to earn a 10-5 victory and advance to the regional final.
Kelsey Kannenberg earned the win. Shea lowed five runs (one earned) on seven hits and no walks while striking out four in seven innings.
The Indians scored 10 runs on 12 hits.
Karli Olsen was 3-4 with three RBIs and two runs scored.
Hannah Brumley was 2-3 with a steal and two runs scored. Josie Fagen was 2-4 with three RBIs. Emily Alger was 2-3 with an RBI and two runs scored.
Maddie Richter was 1-4. Olivia Peschon was 1-4 with a run scored. Kannenberg was 1-2 with a double and an RBI.
Kailee Jenness scored one run, Payton Ahrenstorff had an RBI, and Izzy Backhaus scored two runs for the Indians.
Indians top Forest City to open tourney
Spirit Lake was dominant in its first round victory over Forest City on Wednesday. The Indians plated three runs in the first, two in the third and five in the fifth to end the night early.
Kelsey Kannenberg earned the win. She allowed just two hits and struck out six batters in five innings.
The Indians scored 10 runs on nine hits.
Maddie Richter was 3-3 with a double, an RBi and two runs scored.
Karli Olsen was 2-3 with an RBI, a steal and a run scored.
Olivia Peschon was 1-1 with an RBI and a run scored. Josie Fagen was 1-3 with two runs scored. Emily Alger was 1-3 with two RBIs and a run scored. Kannenberg was 1-3 with a home run, two RBIs and a run scored.
Kailee Jenness and Payton Ahrenstorff both scored a run. Izzy Backhaus stole a base and Hannah Brumley had an RBI for the Indians.