ONE FOR THE THUMB: Spirit Lake softball wins its fifth straight Lakes Conference crown
Make it a five-peat.
The 11th-ranked (3A) Spirit Lake softball squad — battling through a busy conference slate — capped an up-and-down week with a dominant 11-3 road win over Western Christian to win its fifth consecutive Lakes Conference crown on Saturday.
"The game was awesome," coach Rachel Fisher said. "I just loved our energy and our mindset from the moment we stepped off the bus. To see it in their faces and hear it in their voices that they came to play ... and to score those two runs in the first inning was huge. Being able to step on the field and take care of business right away was something that we really emphasized especially this week."
After topping Cherokee on Friday, June 22 to take the outright lead in the conference race, the Indians followed with a 10-run home loss to Estherville Lincoln Central.
That was not how Spirit Lake wanted to start a stretch of four conference games in four days, but the Indians responded with wins over Le Mars on Thursday and Storm Lake on Friday before sealing the deal with a win over the Wolfpack.
"We obviously had a rough game against Estherville on Wednesday," Fisher said. "We just used that to motivate us and used it as a wakeup call. We realized we needed to get better at some things. The rest of that week, I felt that we improved each day. We built on that each day until Saturday and I was so proud of the way the girls' attitude and mindset was the second we stepped off the bus."
Fisher said her team could have gone one of two ways.
"We had a couple of choices to make," she said. "We could let that game against Estherville define our season. Or we had the choice to show up the next two days willing to get better. Every single one of the girls on our team showed up ready to get better and ready to enjoy their time together ... They knew that they didn't want to be defined by that loss to Estherville."
Spirit Lake started Saturday's contest with a bang, as senior star Kelsey Kannenberg sent a two-run shot over the left field fence in the opening frame to lead 2-0. After surrendering a run in the bottom half of the inning, the Indians' offense continued to rake in the second, plating five runs to take a 7-1 lead — and they never looked back.
Spirit Lake scored one in the fourth, two in the fifth and another in the seventh to salt away the eight-run victory.
Kannenberg was the winning pitcher. The righty allowed three runs (two earned) on 13 hits and a walk while fanning five in seven innings.
The Indians scored 11 runs on 12 hits.
Payton Ahrenstorff was 3-4 with a double, an RBI, a steal and three runs scored. Kannenberg was 2-3 with a home run, five RBIs and a run scored.
Emily Alger was 2-4 with an RBI. Ellie Carney was 2-4 with a run scored.
Karli Olsen was 1-3 with three runs scored. Brooke Harrington was 1-4 with an RBI and a run scored. Carlie Jo Ahrenstorff was 1-2 with a run scored.
Stella Donkersloot scored a run for the Indians, who wrapped the regular season with a 25-7 overall record and a 10-2 mark in the Lakes Conference.
"They were really pumped after the game," Fisher said. "One of the best parts of coaching is just seeing the joy in the girls' faces after they came away with that (win). There were a lot of good teams in our conference this year. We pulled out some close games. The girls were just so determined. Every single game mattered. Every single game was going to count for us to win that conference championship. To see how happy they were to accomplish that goal was awesome. They all say the right things and they all say we aren't done. We want to keep building and improving. I think the phrase that Payton Ahrenstorff used after that game was, 'We finally got our swagger back.' I think they realized the way that they need to approach the game from the moment they get to the field and take care of business right away. Hopefully, we can build off of that."
Fisher said the team's fifth conference championship means a lot for this year's seniors and the program overall.
"It just means that the tradition of Spirit Lake softball is hopefully one that's successful," she said. "We want to keep building a program that kids want to be a part of. A program that inspires kids to work hard at softball in the offseason so they can continue that tradition here. I can't say enough good things about this senior class. They have worked so hard from the time they were in eighth grade until now. They've all changed positions multiple times and have just done whatever they had to do to help our team be successful. This group has never made it about them; they've made it about the team. I feel like that is one of the major reasons we've been able to win five straight Lakes Conference championships."
Spirit Lake returned to action Tuesday in the opening round of Class 3A regional tournament play. The Indians hosted MOC-Floyd Valley.