MOUNT AYR – The Raiderettes are three days away from their state softball opening round matchup in Fort Dodge and head coach Bret Ruggles and company are in full gear.
Practices have been based around repetitions in order to smooth out any hiccups the coaching staff noticed over the course of the season.
“This is going to be a business trip. This isn’t going to be a vacation,” said Ruggles. “ ... We’re going up there to win games.”
Monday’s opening test at 3:30 p.m. on Iowa Central Field will be against the fifth-seeded Beckman Catholic Blazers, who sit with a record of 29-13 after they advanced out of Class 2A Region 6, following a win over the No. 2 team in Class 2A in Durant.
The Blazers used a 4-2 win to advance out of their regional final and a good portion of their offense was delivered by senior leadoff hitter Heather Boeckenstedt.
Boeckenstedt – who wears No. 5 – posted a 2-for-3 day at the plate, scored two runs, had a double, an RBI and two stolen bases.
The senior built her batting average up to .527 on the season and now has 43 stolen bases in 44 attempts.
Ruggles knows the key to an opening round win for the Raiderettes will be containing the Blazers’ leadoff hitter.
“Their opening hitter, their shortstop, she’s fantastic,” said Ruggles of Boeckenstedt. “(She’s) their catalyst. She’s kind of their Sam Stewart. When they get her on, they move her around and they score her. ... We’re going to have to do a good job of pitching around her, but you can’t walk her.”
Another senior in Sydney Steffen – who dons the No. 15 jersey – was Beckman Catholic’s three-hole hitter against Durant and handles the pitching duties.
Steffen boasts a .403 batting average on the year and has a team high in doubles (15), home runs (6) and RBIs (42).
In the circle Steffen has been good this season, but not as dominant as a handful of other pitchers the Raiderettes have seen this season.
The hurler holds a respectable 2.24 ERA in 234 2/3 innings pitched and has struck out 162 batters while allowing 58 walks. Opponents are hitting an average of .201 off of Steffen this season.
By comparison, Mount Ayr put nine runs on West Monona’s Lexi Lander, who had a 0.83 ERA prior to the Raiderettes’ win.
“They make mistakes. They’ve made errors. They’re beatable,” said Ruggles of Beckman Catholic. “You really have to feel confident that we’re going to make some plays and actually do some really good things.”
The rest of the Blazer lineup has shown its capabilities to push across runs, but not at a consistent pace.
The other seven starters in the lineup against Durant have combined for a .268 average over the course of the season.
On the other hand, Mount Ayr had seven bats in its starting lineup for the regional final with an average over .305.
“She’s a contact pitcher. I think she pitches to the bat. ... We’ve got to make sure that we keep our weight back and when we get the pitches we like, we need to hit it hard,” said Ruggles.
Awaiting the winner of Mount Ayr and Beckman Catholic will be the winner of top seeded North Linn (39-4) and No. 8 seed Wapello (17-12).
Ruggles admitted he has looked ahead, but simply due to the cramped timeline and little time to turn around and find weaknesses as the first round winners on Monday will turn around and play Wednesday afternoon at 3 p.m.
A loss for Mount Ayr will push the Raiderettes into one final consolation game Tuesday at 1 p.m. to wrap up their season.
The championship game, should Mount Ayr advance through the first two rounds, will be played Thursday at 8:15 p.m. The third place contest will be played Thursday at 7 p.m.
As the state tournament nears, the Raiderettes are set to get up to Fort Dodge Sunday in order to get as familiar as they can with the setting before showtime.
Ruggles is also hoping to get the team out early Monday morning to get a sense of the environment around Rogers Sports Complex.
“We’re going to let them go see it for a little bit,” said Ruggles. “... I want them to see the venue and what it looks like prior to getting on the field.”
Mount Ayr will have a send-off in its high school parking lot Sunday at 2 p.m. when the team will hit the road to the state tournament.