FORT DODGE – Creston (13-6) lost in the opening round of the Class 3A state softball tournament by a 12-0 final, closing the season in four innings at Kruger Field at Rogers Park.
Creston was unable to make anything work against one of the top pitchers in Class 3A in Jena Lawrence, striking out seven straight times starting in the first inning through the third inning.
A leadoff single from Sara Keeler was the first hit of the game for Creston, and a walk to Nevaeh Randall put two on for the Panthers. Creston put two on-base twice in the first and the third inning, and seven straight outs were recorded by punch outs in the middle of both instances.
The second opportunity, Creston put two in scoring position with one out, but struck out twice to end the threat.
Keeler, dropping one into center field in the first inning to show quick life from Creston, said her approach at the plate was to just throw her hands out, put the bat to the ball and let the softball do the rest.
“I just needed to see a pitch and drive it,” Keeler said on her approach. “If you put the hands to the ball, the ball will do to the rest itself. The power (speed) she had helped a lot, so I knew if I went in and swung at a strike, the rest would happen naturally.”
As the game progressed, Keeler told her teammates to get their timing right before stepping in against Lawrence, and look for the release point to determine if the ball is was up or low in the zone.
“I was telling them to get their timing in the on-deck circle right because if you don’t time up in the on-deck circle right then it’s not going to help when you get into the box,” said Keeler. “I also said to look at the ball out of the hand because you can tell right away if the ball is going to be high or low, or in the strike zone, because you have to decide right away. If you saw the ball [well] right out of her hand, then you were going to hit the ball.”
Entering the game, Creston head coach Mike McCabe tried to work the girls out of the notion of it being a state game, instead trying to make them feel as comfortable as possible with the regular routine they’d have in a Hawkeye 10 Conference game.
“We just tried to stay in our routine and do what we always do, and make the day as normal as possible,” said McCabe. “We had practice this morning and we got up here and did our pregame stuff. We came back and did a little more, just so it seemed like a regular game. But, when you walk in through that left field gate and see the bleachers and the grass, you realize where you’re at. That’s part of it, and you’ve got to experience that. We got a little bit of that experience.”
As Creston soon found out, the next level of softball is not fair out of its reach. It is the willingness to take it to that next level, and dedicate themselves to getting better, is what separates Creston from a state berth and a run deeper into the tournament.
“As we found out, there’s another level of play here. You hope that motivates the kids to work harder, and get better in the off season,” McCabe said.
Creston finished the game with two hits, one from Keeler and one from Peyton Rice.
Albia knocked around 14 hits, all hard hit and well placedx, leading to a seven-run dagger in the fourth inning to close out the game. Creston committed no errors.
“They hit some balls that we were right on the money, as far as where we wanted to pitch,” said McCabe. “... Give them credit, they’re the No. 1 seed for a reason and against (Lawrence), it’s hard stringing hits together – hard stringing hits period, let alone stringing hits together.”
Lawrence struck out 12 Creston batters, walking one in four innings.
Creston bid farewell to Keeler, Emma Hanson, Heylee Shields, Danika Schultes and Tierstyn Murray, all graduating seniors from this spring.
It was an emotional farewell for the seniors, but for Keeler, an instrumental part of the team through the back half of her five-year high school career, it was a tough goodbye with girls she’s played with and grown with in both high school and travel ball.
The Des Moines Area Commit voiced her happiness that the next chapter for her awaits, but also voiced her sadness in never getting to play with close friend, and travel ball companion, Gracie Hagle among others.
“(There’s) mixed feelings, because I’m happy we ended at state, but I just wish we could have won it all or something,” said Keeler, getting emotional. “I’m not ready to be done playing with Gracie (Hagle) or Keely (Coen) and all them yet.”
McCabe mentioned the importance of the senior class in creating a culture, and creating respect as elders among younger players.
“A good group, as far as being leaders,” said McCabe. “We talked about it after the game. They were just good leaders, from kids who played everyday to kids who didn’t. They were respected by their teammates and players younger than them that play ahead of them, and I think that speaks volumes. It says everything as far as what kind of teammates and people they are.”
Outgoing seniors Emma Hanson and Heylee Shields will continue their athletic careers at Southwestern Community College in volleyball an softball, respectively.
Albia 12, Creston 0 (4)
R H E
CR 000 0XX — 0 2 0
AL 122 7XX — 12 15 1
CR: Keely Coen 2 2/3IP, Haylee Gillam 1/3 and Peyton Rice. AL: Jena Lawrence 4IP 10K 1BB and Alex Beard. W – Lawrence. L – Coen. HR — None. 3B — None. 2B — CR: None. AL: Danica Workman, Beard, Lawrence, Lauren Bayer, Ellie Spurgin. RBI — AL: Beard (2), Lawrence (2), Bayer (2), Workman (2), Spurgin (2), Abigail Martin (1), Mackenna Jones (1).