IOWA CITY – The success continues for Iowa City West.
In a remarkable year that included a state volleyball title and two basketball titles, the Women of Troy softball team made its contribution Tuesday night.
Ninth-ranked West used a strong pitching performance from Mackenzie Laux and timely hitting to earn its first berth to the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union tournament, beating Cedar Rapids Prairie, 6-0, at home in a Class 5A regional final.
“It’s amazing. It’s indescribable,” West’s Lauren Larson said. “We’ve all been dreaming of this for two years. We finally did it. It’s crazy to actually experience it.”
The team mobbed one another in celebration on the diamond after the win. They even ran to celebrate with fans after a quick photo opportunity.
“That was our goal the whole year,” said West senior Shelly Stumpff, The Gazette’s Female Athlete of the Year. “It’s exciting to be the first people from West to go to state and be in Fort Dodge for ourselves.”
West (36-5) consistently put runners on base, but couldn’t convert until the third inning. Tatum Klein reached on an error to start a rally. She stole second and advanced to third on a groundout. Stumpff came to the plate and ripped a double to right center, giving West a confidence boost.
“It was outside and I just went with it,” Stumpff said. “Just swung that way to the gap.”
Larson followed with an RBI single to score Stumpff and give the Women of Troy a 2-0 lead. Larson led West scored a run in the four-run fifth that sealed the victory and state berth. Michaela Recker smacked a two-run single in the fifth.
Larson led West, going 3-for-3. The key was remaining patient at the plate, and seizing the momentum to take control.
“After we got those two runs (in the third), we knew we could do it,” Larson said. “We had to pull through and get insurance runs and we definitely did that. Once we got two on, we were like this is our inning.”
West didn’t need much offense thanks to the arm of Mackenzie Laux. She was dominant on the mound, throwing 5 1/3 perfect innings. Laux kept the Prairie hitters off balance, tallying nine strikeouts. She notched five straight strikeouts by ending with one in the first, fanning the side in the second and another to open the third.
“All my pitches were working,” Laux said. “The rise ball was getting them a lot. I kept throwing them inside, jamming them. That worked well for me.”
Laux was making her third straight appearance in a regional final, losing to Des Moines Lincoln last year and Mid-Prairie in 2010 when she played at Pekin. Those losses stung, but West Coach Jeff Kelley said she wanted the win as much as anyone.
“She’s kind of a prime time player,” Kelley said. “This is the stage she wanted to be on and she took full advantage of it.”
Now, West will have the chance to add a softball trophy to the school’s trophy case. They earned their celebration Tuesday night after a trying year that included the death of classmate Caroline Found at the start of the school year.
Watch as the team exchanged hugs with Earnest Found, the father of late classmate and teammate Caroline Found.
“They’re a tough bunch,” Kelley said. “They learned through some of the adversity we’ve had to deal with … Give them a lot of credit to stay focused and have that drive to finish this thing off the right way.”
The Hawks hung tough, but couldn’t must much offense. Pinch hitter Gabrielle Carter earned Prairie’s first hit, and Natalie Rumer added a single in the final inning. Neither advanced beyond second. Katelyn Kuch was solid early not allowing an earned run until the fifth.
“They came out fighting really hard, but a lot of credit is due to West,” Prairie Coach Kimi Hynek said. “They played really tough. Their pitcher did a great job and they hit the ball, putting it in play and making things happen.”
Prairie ends the season 10-26. Hynek is optimistic the returning players will make strides in the future.
“We had our fair share of ups and downs,” Hynek said. “I’d like to believe we have a lot of potential with a lot of the kids returning. I have high hopes and expectations for next year.”