As his team prepared for its biggest game of the season, Larry Niemeyer made himself perfectly clear:
Saturday’s effort — a lackadaisical 6-5 regional-semifinal win over Cedar Falls — was not “typical (Cedar Rapids) Jefferson softball,” he said.
“Of course not. We built this program on pitching and defense. We wouldn’t be 36-5 without it.”
This much is also clear: The J-Hawks must be better Tuesday if they want to return to the state tournament for the first time in three seasons.
“Yeah, we’ve got to play better,” Niemeyer said in reference to fourth-ranked Jefferson’s Class 5A regional-final battle with No. 10 Davenport West (30-10). First pitch is 7 p.m. at the Jefferson Softball Complex.
It’s one of five area regional finals set for Tuesday. Also in 5A, No. 9 Iowa City West (34-6) hosts Cedar Rapids Prairie (9-28) in a battle of two teams seeking their first state berth.
In Class 4A, Cedar Rapids Xavier (24-17) travels to top-ranked Clear Creek Amana (40-1), West Delaware (29-10) meets 13th-ranked Charles City (25-9) at Waverly, and No. 7 Washington (30-8) hosts No. 8 North Scott (25-16).
Winners advance to the Rogers Sports Complex, near Fort Dodge, next week. It’s a place Jefferson has visited on 18 occasions, but not since 2009.
“Our kids are very hungry,” Niemeyer said. “They’ve been talking about it all winter and all spring.”
In West, the J-Hawks will face a team full of slappers.
“They’re going to put the ball in play,” Niemeyer said. “You have to pitch them a little different, because you’re not going to strike them out a lot.”
While Jefferson is a slight favorite at home, Xavier and Prairie are heavy underdogs on the road.
“We’re just excited to get the opportunity to play the team that everybody says is the best in the state,” Xavier’s Erin Drahozal said after the Saints handled Dubuque Wahlert on Saturday.
Xavier interim coach Nikki Price said, “We have nothing to lose. There’s no pressure here. We’ve just got to play our game and see how it goes.”
TUESDAY’S REGIONAL SOFTBALL FINALS
CEDAR RAPIDS JEFFERSON vs. DAVENPORT WEST (Class 5A Region 2)
When & where — 7 p.m., at Jefferson Softball Complex
Records & rankings — Jefferson (36-5) is ranked fourth; West (30-10) is No. 10.
Notable — One of two 5A games pitting two ranked teams against one another. Jefferson’s two-year state drought is its longest since the late 1980s, and a senior class of six hopes to end that Tuesday. The J-Hawks got an unexpected challenge from Cedar Falls in the semifinals before surviving, 6-5. Maddie Koolbeck hit a key home run to break a 4-4 tie and put Jefferson in front for good. Carson Burgart leads a balanced attack at .446 while five-year starter Hannah Petersen is 19-3 in the circle. West had no such drama in its regional opener, quickly disassembling Davenport Central, 10-0. Shyanne Saladino, senior daughter of Coach Steve Saladino, hits .430 and is 15-3 as a pitcher.
CEDAR RAPIDS PRAIRIE vs. IOWA CITY WEST (Class 5A Region 3)
When & where — 7 p.m., at Iowa City West
Records & rankings — Prairie (9-28) is unranked; West (34-6) is No. 9.
Notable — One of these teams is going to advance to state for the first time. West is certainly the more likely candidate, residing in the top 10 all season long. Tatum Klein leads the Women of Troy in batting average (.433) and runs (47) while 2012 Gazette Female Athlete of the Year Shelly Stumpff is the RBI leader, with 45. Mackenzie Laux (17-4) has struck out 181 batters and owns a 0.72 ERA. Prairie pulled a significant upset in the semifinals, winning at Waterloo East, 4-0, behind Katie Kuch’s three-hitter. Gabi Carter is hitting .475 while Brittney Lash leads the Hawks in runs (25) and RBIs (17).
WEST DELAWARE vs. CHARLES CITY (Class 4A Region 2)
When & where — 7 p.m., at Waverly
Records & rankings — West Delaware (29-10) is unranked; Charles City (25-9) is No. 13.
Notable — Mackenzie Harbaugh saved West Delaware in the regional semifinals, clubbing a three-run home run in the top of the seventh as the Hawks rallied past Waverly-Shell Rock, 7-6. The Hawks rallied from four runs down in the final two innings. Charles City, meanwhile, outscored Decorah, 11-6, in a game between Northeast Iowa Conference co-champions. Autumn Reeder leads the Hawks in hitting at .466 while Mikaela Boss (13 doubles, 8 homers) is the top power threat. Sisters Mara and Micaela Forsyth are the top hitters for the Comets. Mara has 10 home runs.
CEDAR RAPIDS XAVIER vs. CLEAR CREEK AMANA (Class 4A Region 3)
When & where — 7 p.m., at Oxford
Records & rankings — Xavier (24-17) is unranked; CCA (40-1) is No. 1.
Notable — Xavier faces an extremely difficult task against a team widely believed to be the state’s best, in any class. Clear Creek Amana has won 17 straight games, including a win over 5A No. 1 Ankeny that avenged the only loss of the season. The 3A state champ in 2011, CCA has won 53 of its last 54 in a run that extends into last season. As per usual, the Clippers are putting up mammoth offensive numbers, with four .500-plus hitters –Fran Strub, Mariah McKinnon, Mallory Madsen and Caitlin Wnek. Both teams were convincing winners in the regionals semis; CCA plastered Benton Community while Xavier dropped Dubuque Wahlert, 14-3. Sydney Galligan is hitting .493 with 45 runs for the Saints; Jenna Schulte has six homers and 46 RBIs.
WASHINGTON vs. NORTH SCOTT (Class 4A Region 4)
When & where — 7 p.m., at Washington
Records & rankings — Washington (30-8) is ranked seventh; North Scott (25-16) is No. 8.
Notable — This figures to be one of the most intriguing games Tuesday in 4A. Washington is the champion of the Southeast Conference while North Scott finished in the second division of the 5A-heavy Mississippi Athletic Conference and is a tradition-rich program. Both teams cruised in the regional semifinals; North Scott battered Maquoketa, 13-1, while Washington scored nine first-inning runs and popped Davenport North, 19-7. Washington’s Maddie Bohr is a pest at the plate, hitting .504 with 33 walks and 53 runs. Lauren Vittetoe has 52 RBIs. Freshman McKenna Heim is hitting .493 with 44 runs for the Lancers.
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