FORT DODGE – Class 2A No. 10 Mount Ayr’s season came to a close behind struggles in the field during the opening round of the Class 2A state tournament Tuesday with a 5-2 loss to Class 2A No. 3 Ogden (20-3).
The Raiderettes entered Tuesday’s game trusting the defense’s speed and ability to make tough plays. Mount Ayr head coach Bret Ruggles said after the Regional final win over Earlham July 20 he wished this year’s defense was on the third-place finishing 2019 team.
Against the Bulldogs Mount Ayr (10-5) finished with five errors, resulting in four runs. The Raiderettes had a .951 fielding percentage with 20 errors entering Tuesday.
“Part of this is sometimes speed can hurt you a little bit too, where angles aren’t perfect angles, because you’re fast enough you think you can get to certain stuff,” Ruggles said. “Instead of having that angle to come off, making an angle to try and catch it, you’re in that weird limbo where you’re diving.”
Ruggles said he will “never take away our aggressiveness from our outfield,” but the outfield play “just didn’t quite match up like it needed to.”
Before taking the field, the Raiderettes took a 2-0 lead. In the top half of the first inning, Addy Reynolds blasted a double to center field and moved to third on a pitch reaching the backstop. Alexa Anderson drove Reynolds in with a fielder’s choice to shortstop and reached second on the throw home.
Anderson came around to score on another pitch reaching the backstop from University of Iowa commit Denali Loecker to put the Raiderettes up 2-0.
Reynolds limited the Bulldogs’ powerful bats. Loecker was intentionally walked in the first inning before coming around on heads up baserunning. Advancing to second with Reynolds walking back to the circle, her throw sailed into centerfield, getting away from Channler Henle in centerfield. Loecker scored on the play to cut Mount Ayr’s lead to 2-1.
Ruggles said he felt that play swung the momentum and Mount Ayr “just never got going again.”
Ogden added another in the third inning on a slicing line drive to left field to score Loecker for the second time and tie the game.
Reynolds continued to hold the Bulldogs down, finding her way out of jams.
In the middle innings, Loecker settled down in the circle, retiring 12 straight Raiderette batters from the second through sixth innings, and avoided Mount Ayr taking a momentum shift.
Ruggles said he told the girls they could hit Loecker, but she started using her off speed pitches in the middle innings and kept hitters off balance.
Mount Ayr kept the game in check until a three-run fourth inning on an error pushed Ogden to its first and final lead.
With runners at first and second from a single and walk, Ruggles walked Loecker for the third time to load the bases.
“I told the girls at the beginning of the day, even yesterday, ‘I’m not going to let Loecker beat me,’” Ruggles said. “If the next girl gets up and beats me or the girl behind her, fine. But, it’s not going to be Loecker.”
Loecker entered Tuesday hitting .565 with 10 home runs and 29 RBIs – five homers away from the all-time record for homers in the state with 66 in her career (held of 71 by Ankeny Centennial stand out Kendyl Lindaman). Putting her on first sent Jenna Palmer, hitting .455 entering Tuesday, up to the plate.
Palmer laced a single through the right side of the infield with a misplay on the ball from right fielder Payten Lambert. The ball reached the fence, allowing all three runners to score and Palmer to reach second.
With time running out, the Raiderettes weren’t out of the game. Ruggles said with COVID-19 impacting the season and the challenges the group has faced, he learned how willing the team was to battle through “all of the adversity you have to fight.”
Lambert led the inning off by getting on from an overthrow to first. Sam Stewart walked before Reynolds moved Lambert to third on a fielder’s choice. Reynolds stole second base for runners in scoring position with one out.
Mount Ayr left both runners on-base after Halsie Barnes hit a hard line drive to shortstop, ending the inning.
The Raiderettes’ offense went down in order to end the top of the seventh, ending the season with two senior graduates taking the field for the final time.
Now, making the state tournament in back-to-back years and having two years of experience, Ruggles said getting to Fort Dodge and earning a trophy is the expectation.
Stewart and Abigail Barnes’ careers ended with the loss, but their impact on the future of Mount Ayr’s softball program will be felt.
Ruggles, following the girls through high school from middle school, was with the duo for seven years. He said the two have given their everything for the program throughout their time, orchestrating team dinners and leading the team.
For Barnes, a silent leader and four-year starter, the feeling of being a Raiderette is something she wouldn’t want to replace.
“I wouldn’t have wanted to play at anywhere else, with any other coaches or with any other people because I just love my team, and I wouldn’t have [chosen] anything else,” Barnes said.
Ruggles said he isn’t sure how he is going to replace Barnes, due to the impact she has had in her career.
Stewart, a multi-sport athlete and leader of Mount Ayr girl’s athletics, said her time has ended, but she was proud to be part of the program.
“I feel very good that we made it this far,” Stewart said. “I feel we were really underestimated coming in to the regionals, and to make it this far feels good.”
Stewart and Barnes’ athletic careers will not come to an end. Stewart will take her basketball talent to Peru State in Nebraska while Barnes will join Graceland softball in the fall and spring.
Ogden 5, Mount Ayr 2
R H E
MA 200 000 0— 2 1 5
OG 101 300 X— 12 6 2
MA: Addy Reynolds 6IP 1K 4BB and Abigail Barnes. OG: Denali Loecker 7IP 6Ks 1BB and Faith Mohr. W – Loecker. L – Reynolds. HR — None. 3B — None. 2B — MA: Reynolds. OG: Reagan Church, Mohr. RBI — OG: Church (2).