It was a hot summer evening, so perhaps it was for the best that Wayne played 5th-ranked BCLUW in northern Iowa. Every degree of latitude helps.
A huge crowd gathered in Conrad on Fri., July 12 for a rematch of the 2010 Class 2A championship game—the Comets and the Fisher sisters defeated Cassandra Darrah and the Lady Falcons almost 10 years ago.
“For being two-and-a-half hours away,” an umpire said of the Wayne fans, “there sure are a lot of people here.”
They were treated to one of the best played and greatest games of high school softball that you could ever see. It was filled with tremendous defensive plays, followed by a dramatic finish.
“We came in knowing we were underdogs,” senior Raegan Tilley said. “[Fellow senior] Bayleigh Kellis and I sat down with a matching goal—play like it could be our last game—leave all four years on the field.”
In the 1st inning, Lady Falcons pitcher Sterling Berndt got out of a jam with a strikeout with a runner on 3rd base.
In the next inning, BCLUW’s senior pitcher Bailey Ashton allowed a leadoff double to Emily Jones, who just missed a homerun by a few feet. The previous game against Central Decatur, Bailey had struck out 17. She got out of the inning with 2 more strikeouts, and the score remained 0-0.
The Comets also led off the 2nd inning with a hit, but Berndt settled in with the help of 2 pop outs to catcher Camryn Jacobsen.
Wayne finally broke through in the 3rd. After a Jaide Harvey single, the girls rallied with 2 outs. Tilley hit another single, before Jacobsen drove in Harvey with a double. Tilley was tagged out on a close play at the plate, ending the inning.
Berndt allowed another leadoff single, before forcing 3 straight pop outs to end any thought of a rally.
It was the same story in the bottom of the 5th for the Comets, a leadoff single and then 2 straight flyouts. But it took a truly great play by secondbaseman Allie Wik to finish the inning. Wik fielded a ground ball awkwardly, forcing her to stumble. The only way to get it to Kellis at first base was to flip and push it underhanded, and the runner was out.
Wayne added an insurance run in the top of the 6th inning when Jacobsen drove a pitch deep over the leftfield fence for a solo homerun.
“I had been struggling recently,” Jacobsen said. “Last night, I told myself I have a big game tomorrow and I need to focus on seeing the ball and relaxing. It’s all or nothing. You’ve got to be fearless when it comes to these types of games.”
By the 2nd out of the bottom of the 6th, frustration was setting in, as Berndt struck out a hitter, causing her to slam her bat in disgust. It was a quick inning, as Wik recorded another assist to Kellis on a ground out.
Despite a great battle by Kellis to lead off the 7th, Ashton did her job with her team down 2-0, breezing through 3 batters. In the bottom of the 7th, after Berndt struck out the 1st batter, it did not look good for BCLUW, but they did not give up.
In the end, the little details on defense allowed Wayne to survive.
With 1 out, Berndt gave up a hit that centerfielder Tilley just missed on a sliding attempt. But because leftfielder Mya Willey had hustled over to back up the play, she kept the runner on what should have been a double to a single.
Berndt, a freshman, began to feel the pressure, as she would later admit.
“I just had to get it back together for my team,” Berndt said.
“I knew the field was playing great,” Jacobsen said of calming down her pitcher. “I had no fear.”
Berndt uncharacteristically walked the next batter on 4 pitches, then threw a wild pitch that allowed both runners into scoring position. A BCLUW double followed, tying the game at 2-2, and Head Coach Heather Fortune started having flashbacks of last year’s Martensdale-St. Mary’s game, when the Lady Falcons lost a big lead in the final inning.
But again, Wayne’s defense came up big. Berndt regained her composure and forced a foul out to right field, which Harvey made a nice play to snag. Wik had another clutch play to end the inning, getting the hitter at 1st on a ground ball just in time for the 3rd out, as the runner had left 2nd base on contact.
Instead of a walk-off win, it was extra innings.
“I told the team before the game,” Fortune said, “you have to expect a team like BCLUW that’s ranked 5th to fight back. I’m just thankful we held them to 2 runs and had an opportunity to put some more runs on the board.”
In the top of the 8th inning, it looked like BCLUW had maintained their momentum, as Berndt fouled out on an amazing catch by firstbaseman Cate Nason, before Tilley grounded out.
With 2 outs, Jacobsen came up to the plate again. This time, she worked the count to 3-2. Instead of a big hit, she got hit on the wrist by a pitch. Jones followed by drawing a walk on 4 pitches.
Then, freshman Maddy Wood hit a clutch single. However, it was shallow enough Fortune stopped Jacobsen at 3rd base. The play was still in progress when Jones trailed away from 2nd a bit too much, drew a throw, and Jacobsen saw her chance. She darted toward home plate, and though the throw was perfect, the catcher could not handle the softball, allowing Jacobsen to score the winning run.
“I saw them messing with Em [Jones],” Jacobsen said. “I decided to just go for it—we needed that 1 run.”
Wik followed with an RBI single for insurance, and Wayne had retaken the lead 4-2. Wik’s improved play as the season progresses is one key factor in the Lady Falcons’ success.
“It was my little vacation with Heather [Fortune] to Fiji in our heads,” Wik said of the psychology of relaxation. “I was just getting too amped up.”
“That was the hardest team we’ve faced,” Jacobsen said. “We had to put ourselves down in the dirt and dig deep, because we knew we could do it. We’ve been working for this for so long.”
“We played great as a team tonight,” Wik said.
Berndt and the Wayne defense would not be denied in the bottom of the 8th. Jones fielded a sharply hit ball at third base and gunned out the runner. It was the story of the night—high school girls making Major League plays. After Berndt forced a flyout to Tilley in centerfield, Wik caught the final pop out, and the celebration was on.
Unranked Wayne had defeated BCLUW on the Comets’ home field. Though it is only one game and there is still work left for the Lady Falcons, it is a night no one who played or saw the game should forget.
At one point, the radio announcer said of Wayne, “I have no idea why this team’s not rated—it’s ridiculous.”
On the other side of the bracket, Melcher-Dallas upset Twin Cedars.
And now, after a two-and-a-half-hour drive, the Lady Falcons are back where they started. At 22-8, they will host the 27-5 Saints at Saling Athletic Complex in Corydon at 7 p.m. on Mon., July 15. The winner goes to the Iowa State Softball Tournament in Fort Dodge.
“It was just our night,” Fortune said. “Sterling had good spin on the ball. We can’t overlook Monday.”