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Ottumwa foils Rams’ upset bid; on to regional final

July 12, 2011
Ottumwa High School

Ottumwa foils Rams’ upset bid; on to regional final

OTTUMWA — On to Burlington.

The fourth-ranked Ottumwa softball team moved to within a game of its 26th state tournament berth with a 2-1 thrilling win over upstart Southeast Polk (19-21) on Monday night at Huston Field.

Ottumwa (34-7) plays for a trip to Fort Dodge and the state tournament on Wednesday at sixth-ranked Burlington (31-5). The Grayhounds topped Iowa City High 4-0 in their regional semifinal clash.

The Class 4A, Region 7 matchup in Ottumwa was almost a little too close for comfort, as the below-500 Rams sure didn’t play like a team with a losing record.

The Bulldogs — a bona-fide state title contender and one of the highest scoring teams in the state – couldn’t seem to figure out lefty Hannah Parker (4-9). Parker, just a freshman, held Ottumwa hitless into the sixth inning.

“Hannah came to play,” said Southeast Polk head coach Tia Stiles. “She did a great job. One of the best hitting teams in the state and she held them to three hits.”

With one out in the sixth, that all changed.

“It was an ‘at ‘em’ game. We just hit it right at them,” said junior all-state shortstop Paige Schreiner, who knocked in Ottumwa’s first run of the game with an RBI single up the middle.

OHS sophomore centerfielder Sammy Garrett blasted a single up the box to start Ottumwa’s rally in the sixth. Olivia Roark reached base on a fielder’s choice bunt sacrifice in the ensuing at-bat. The Rams threw to second after Roark’s well-placed bunt, but no out was recorded, putting runners on first and second with one out. Schreiner made it 1-0 with her clutch hit, then sophomore Katie Sammons lofted a high fly ball to right. The ball kept carrying and the right fielder could not come up with the catch as the ball one-hopped the wall. Roark scored, but Schreiner was thrown out at the plate.

“We just kind of all decided it was our inning,” said Schreiner.

Ottumwa senior ace pitcher Courtney Wagner continued to be on fire inside the circle.

“They hit one hard ball on Courtney all night. We better give her some props,” said Ottumwa head coach Frank Huston. “That’s just a senior pitcher pitching at her best.”

Wagner fanned seven out of the first 10 batters she faced and sent the final two Ram batters of the game down swinging to squelch Southeast Polk’s final scoring threat.

“Our hats go off to Ottumwa. They’re an awesome team. It’s just a shame somebody had to lose,” said Stiles.

Polk — which was denied a state bid in a 8-3 loss to Ottumwa in last year’s regional final — piled on the drama late in what was an extremely exciting game to watch on a hot, muggy summer night in southeast Iowa.

“This is just typical 4A softball tournament time. You get by the first round, the teams are even and there’s so much parity. It’s just whoever plays on that given night,” said Huston, who has won two state titles at Ottumwa.

Polk began its rally with a line-drive double to left by Tiffany Gillaspy. The throw from the outfield went awry, letting Gillaspy sit at third with no outs. Britney Steele’s little flare over third landed in no-man’s land with the infield drawn in to cut Ottumwa’s lead in half. The play of the inning came on an attempted sac bunt that Wagner snared with a dive before it hit the ground for the first out. Wagner buckled down and recorded strikeouts No. 11 and 12 to send Bulldog fans home happy.

“I was just trying to keep my cool, be calm and do what I do normally,” said Wagner. “They came to play, we came to play also.”

Ottumwa uncharacteristically shot itself in the foot in the first three frames, failing to put down three different sacrifice bunt attempts.

“Our short game early on cost us a chance,” said Huston. “We weren’t gettin’ ‘em over — that’s for darn sure.”

Steele cranked a two-run double in the seventh to thwart Indianola in the Rams’ 3-1 win on Saturday to advance to the semifinal round. Southeast Polk’s entire hitting lineup — 1-9 – are all seniors.

“Our seniors are the backbone to our squad,” said Stiles. “Although we’ve been kind of up-and-down a bit, they never lost faith in each other. We were ready to go this postseason.”

Wagner, who will attend Southwestern Community College in Creston this fall, can’t wait to get to Burlington.

“I feel like I’m doing really, really well right now. My team’s doing really well,” said Wagner. “I would love to have a chance to go back to Fort Dodge and play. That would be so cool.”

Ottumwa 2, Southeast Polk 1

OTT    000    002    0    —    2    3    2         

SEP     000    000    1    —    1    3    0

Ottumwa battery — Courtney Wagner (W, 16-6) (7IP, 3H, 1R, 0ER, 12K, 0BB), Beth Overturf catching.

2B — Katie Sammons.

Hits — Sammy Garrett 1-2, Paige Schreiner 1-3, Sammons 1-3.

RBI — Schreiner, Sammons. Runs — Garrett, Olivia Roark.

Southeast Polk battery — Hannah Parker (L, 4-9) (7IP, 3H, 2R, 2ER, 3K, 4BB), Tiffany Gillaspy catching.

2B — Gillaspy.

Hits — Gillaspy 1-3, Britney Steele 1-3, Emma Negrete 1-2.

RBI — Steele. Runs — Gillaspy.

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