HARLAN – It’s been a long time coming for the Raiderettes.
A trip to the state tournament in Fort Dodge was not something that had not been done in Mount Ayr since 1994, before all Raiderette players on the current team had been born. Monday night, the Raiderettes clinched a state berth in dominating fashion with a 9-0 win over Class 2A No. 4 West Monona.
A strikeout to end the game put an exclamation point on the win, leading to Mount Ayr starter Caroline McAlexander embracing with catcher Abbigail Barnes.
The rest of the team poured onto the field behind them in between home plate and the pitching circle in celebration.
In the dugout, head coach Bret Ruggles took the extra minute to celebrate on his own, embracing with his wife and assistant coach Brandie Ruggles before joining the girls on the field.
When the dust of the celebration settled and the banner was unfurled for photos, Ruggles said that its necessary for the girls to enjoy the victory the next day.
“Our rule has always been to take the (next) day off and go be kids. Celebrate this and then we’ll get back to work against whoever we have,” said Ruggles.
The Raiderettes will open the Class 2A state tournament as the No. 4 seed and are set to face fifth-seeded Beckman Catholic Monday at 3:30 p.m. in Fort Dodge.
Pouring it on
The Raiderettes jumped on West Monona in the top of the first, setting the tone for what was to come in the following six innings.
A three-run first inning off West Monona’s Lexi Lander was all that was needed as the Spartans struggled to climb out of the hole en route to a crushing 9-0 loss.
Lander, one of the top pitchers in Class 2A, boasted an 0.83 ERA (fourth in 2A) in 177 1/3 innings entering Monday. She had not allowed more than five runs in a game in nearly a calendar month, with the last time being against Westwood June 17.
A Sam Stewart leadoff double off the right-center field wall on the second pitch of the game got things going for Mount Ayr, putting a jolt into the crowd and the bench as a runner stood in scoring position seconds into the start of the game.
A hit-by-pitch of Caroline McAlexander put two on for Alexa Anderson, who reached on a throwing error by Lander which brought in Stewart to put the first run on the board.
Rachel Sobotka followed, dropping one into left field to bring in McAlexander’s courtesy runner to make it 2-0.
Anderson then took advantage of a passed ball, scoring the third run in the first inning on a stunned West Monona team and crowd.
The early lead for Mount Ayr’s starter McAlexander was not expected, but welcomed as she toed the rubber in the bottom of the first.
“Honestly, I was not expecting that,” said McAlexander. “We put up three runs and it felt amazing. I was not expecting that and our team pulled it out tonight and I am really proud of us.”
The aggressiveness at the plate and on the bases was instilled in the game plan from Ruggles early on in hopes of getting on the fourth-ranked team in Class 2A early.
“We felt like if we could be aggressive and hit her (Lander) early we might get some runs,” said Ruggles. “Usually in regional finals the more pressure you can put on early, the harder it is. I did not expect Sam Stewart to rope the second pitch off the fence. ... Everything we could have asked for happened in the first inning.”
With a 3-0 lead held through the first inning, the Raiderettes held the Spartan offense nearly silent.
The Raiderettes worked themselves into trouble on multiple occasions, but poise under pressure from both McAlexander and the Raiderette defense led to Mount Ayr leaving eight runner on base.
“I just had to trust my defense,” said McAlexander. “I wanted to do it all by myself and I know I can’t. I definitely knew I had to trust my defense and trust my stuff.”
Trusting her fielders led to several run-saving plays, including a play in the sixth inning where a ground ball bounced off the heel of third baseman Addy Reynolds’ glove that went directly to shortstop Sam Stewart.
Stewart fired the ball to first for the third out, preventing two potential runs on second and third from coming around to score on the play.
“That was kind of the stigma of our night tonight,” said Ruggles. “We made some great defensive plays, a little lucky in a way, but made some great plays. I was very pleased with that.”
In the fourth, the Raiderettes began pouring it on with an RBI sacrifice fly to bring in Payten Lambert off the bat of Stewart to make it 5-0.
A Rachel Sobotka pop fly got lost in the sun behind first base in the fifth to score Maddie Stewart, pushing it to 6-0.
“I told the girls they’re like an animal, we’re just stepping on them,” said Ruggles. “We needed to stomp on them and beat them.”
The game was put out of reach in the sixth with another three-run inning after a Channler Henle double was followed by a Lambert RBI double. The pair of doubles was followed up two batters later on a double off the bat of McAlexander. Her courtesy runner came around to score.
As the outs were starting to become numbered in the Mount Ayr dugout, the nerves and excitement for a usually composed and stoic Ruggles were starting to show.
“It’s the hardest thing to do (staying composed), because you’re telling the girls to just stay focused and in your mind you are freaking out,” said Ruggles. “I am literally shaking at third base. I lost the last four batters. I don’t even know what they did and I didn’t care because I knew we had good defense.”
In the seventh inning a West Monona baserunner made her way to second base after a leadoff strikeout, but was stranded at second base as McAlexander punched out Ariel Rotnicke to secure the state berth.
After getting the Gatorade shower from the Raiderettes and basking in the celebration under the field lights on the infield clay, Ruggles snapped back into his ready-to-go mentality while still stressing the importance of stepping back and taking it all in.
“We’ll definitely get back to work, but we’re going to enjoy this,” said Ruggles. “This has been a long drought and (we’re going to) let our girls enjoy this one.”
Mount Ayr 9, West Monona 0
R H E
MA 300 213 0 — 9 8 1
WM 000 000 0 — 0 3 4
Mount Ayr: Caroline McAlexander 7K 2BB and Abbigail Barnes. West Monona: Lexi Lander 8K 4BB and Mallory McCall. W — McAlexander (19-2). L – Lander (23-5). HR — none. 3B — none. 2B — MA: Sam Stewart, Channler Henle, Payten Lambert, Caroline McAlexander. RBI — MA: Rachel Sobotka (2), Stewart, Lambert.