Cedar Rapids Jefferson faces the state’s best team.
Cedar Rapids Prairie meets the state’s most prolific team.
Iowa City West tackles tradition.
Yeah, the Corridor’s three remaining Class 5A softball squads are up against a variety of challenges as they line up for their regional finals Tuesday.
“We’re going in as underdogs, and that can be a good thing,” said Jefferson pitcher Alyssa Olson. “We’re ready to go put up a fight.”
Jefferson, Prairie and West each face highly ranked teams on the road.
The 10th-ranked J-Hawks (30-11) travel to No. 1 Muscatine (37-3), Prairie (27-14) plays at No. 4 Pleasant Valley and West (22-19) is at No. 3 Ottumwa (35-6).
In 4A, third-ranked Solon (39-2) hosts Maquoketa (23-16), Vinton-Shellsburg (24-15) plays at No. 4 Carlisle (31-7) and Washington, Iowa (28-11) meets No. 15 North Scott (24-14) at Cedar Rapids Xavier.
All games start at 7 p.m., and all winners advance to the state tournament next week at Fort Dodge.
For Prairie, it would be a first trip to state.
“That would be pretty cool, but like I’ve been telling the kids, don’t make the game bigger than it is,” said Hawks first-year coach Joe Yegge. “Treat it like any other game.”
The Jefferson-Muscatine and Prairie-Pleasant Valley matchups are MVC-vs.-MAC encounters. In both cases, the MAC is favored.
Muscatine is No. 1 behind the speed of Katie Shoultz and the power of Megan Butler and Taylor Berry.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge,” said J-Hawks Coach Brian Erbe. “When we’re doing things well, we can be pretty good. Hopefully we can go over there, everything clicks and that gives us a shot.”
Pleasant Valley leads the state in runs (371) and home runs (55).
“We know they’re going to hit,” Yegge said. “We need to play defense behind Katie (Kuch). If we can keep them from leaving the yard, it gives us a chance.”
A state qualifier last year, West played around the .500 level throughout the regular season before catching fire when tournaments began. The Women of Troy won their first two regional games by 11-0 and 12-1 counts.
Ottumwa has been to state 26 times. Only Clear Creek Amana (33) has been there more.
TUESDAY’S SOFTBALL REGIONAL FINALS
CEDAR RAPIDS JEFFERSON vs. MUSCATINE (Class 5A)
Site & time: At Muscatine, 7 p.m.
Records & rankings: No. 10 Jefferson is 30-11; No. 1 Muscatine is 37-3.
Notable: After falling short in three consecutive regional finals, Jefferson has a tough nut to crack in order to return to state for the first time since 2009. The Muskies carry a 19-game winning streak and were undefeated champions of a stacked Mississippi Athletic Conference. The Muskies average 8.4 runs per game, and scored eight in the fourth inning in a 12-1 victory over Bettendorf in the regional semifinals. The J-Hawks might have a pitcher to slow them, though; sophomore Alyssa Olson (18-3) no-hit Cedar Rapids Washington in an 11-0 regional-semifinal win, striking out 14 in the five-inning conquest. Jefferson catcher Maddie Hansen is the 5A state leader in RBIs, with 65, and is batting .500. Muscatine has speed in Katie Shoultz (.553, 60 stolen bases) and strength in Megan Butler (12 home runs) and Taylor Berry (11 HRs).
CEDAR RAPIDS PRAIRIE vs. PLEASANT VALLEY (Class 5A)
Site & time: At Pleasant Valley, 7 p.m.
Records & rankings: Prairie (27-14) is unranked; No. 4 Pleasant Valley is 30-10.
Notable: It’s already been a breakthrough season for Prairie in Joe Yegge’s first season. Now, the Hawks want to make it a historic season. They’re pursuing their first trip to state, but they’ll need an upset to reach Fort Dodge. The Spartans are explosive, leading the state in runs scored (371) and home runs (55). Three different Spartans have reached double-figures in homers — Chloe Miller (17), Holly Hoelting (13) and Sydney Dwyer (10). Miller has scored 62 runs; Hoelting has driven in 60. Pleasant Valley can be scored upon, though, and that gives the Hawks hope. Mallory Jones leads Prairie at .395; she’s one of seven Prairie batters hitting better than .320. Brittney Lash has scored 39 runs; Natalie Rumer has driven in 36. Katie Kuch (19-7, 2.16 ERA) will get the call to slow the PV attack.
IOWA CITY WEST vs. OTTUMWA (Class 5A)
Site & time: At Ottumwa, 7 p.m.
Records & rankings: West (22-19) is unranked; No. 3 Ottumwa is 35-6.
Notable: West made its first trip to the state tournament last year (the Women of Troy were fourth), and after a pedestrian regular season, this team has looked like world-beaters since the tournament began. The Women of Troy bombed Cedar Rapids Kennedy and Iowa City High by margins of 11-0 and 12-1 in the first two rounds. Ottumwa, meanwhile, has to rally to get past Burlington, 2-1, in the regional semifinals. Freshman Adara Opiola paces West at .435 and seven home runs, 11 doubles and 29 RBIs. Ottumwa boasts tradition (the Bulldogs’ 26 state appearances rank second in Iowa, behind Clear Creek Amana) and experience. Seven seniors figure prominently in its success. One of them is Katie Sammons, who has scored 48 runs and has driven in 52. Sammons has 14 home runs.
SOLON vs. MAQUOKETA (Class 4A)
Site & time: At Solon, 7 p.m.
Records & rankings: No. 3 Solon is 39-2; Maquoketa (23-16) is unranked.
Notable: After a Class 3A state runner-up finish last year, Solon hitched itself to Coach Jim White in the offseason, and the honeymoon has been a happy one. The Spartans went undefeated through Wamac Conference East Division play, including a sweep of Maquoketa. Beat the Cardinals again, and they advance to state for the ninth time in 11 years. Maquoketa handled a pair of divisional rivals — Western Dubuque and West Delaware — on their path to this point; they edged West Delaware 4-3 in eight innings. Solon has three of the state’s top five doubles hitters: Kara Misel (25), Taylor Nearad (23) and Mallory Madsen (21). Nearad is batting .490 with 60 RBIs. Emily Ira (18-1) and Holly Hinkel (15-0) are the primary pitchers. Erica Sutton is hitting .411 with 37 RBIs for the Cardinals.
VINTON-SHELLSBURG vs. CARLISLE (Class 4A)
Site & time: At Carlisle, 7 p.m.
Records & rankings: Vinton-Shellsburg (24-15) is unranked; No. 4 Carlisle is 31-7.
Notable: An upset of Wamac Conference West Division champion Benton Community has Vinton-Shellsburg within a game of its first state-tournament appearance. The Vikettes scored the go-ahead run in the sixth inning on a wild pitch, then pulled a 1-2-3 double play to preserve the lead. V-S, stormed past Marion in the first round, has won six of its last seven games. For the most part, the Vikettes are a light-hitting outfit, though Sydney Robertson (.424) and Ashley McKenna (,374) are exceptions. Pitcher Maddie Cornell (17-9, 2.21 ERA) has allowed just 18 walks in 152 1/3 innings. Carlisle has been a state regular, qualifying 12 times in the last two decades, and this would be the Wildcats’ sixth straight trip. Payton Mercer leads the Wildcats at .481 and 49 RBIs.
WASHINGTON, Iowa, vs. NORTH SCOTT (Class 4A)
Site & time: At Cedar Rapids Xavier, 7 p.m.
Records & rankings: Washington (28-11) is unranked; No. 15 North Scott is 24-14.
Notable: This is a regional-final rematch; Washington won last year, 4-1, and went on to finish fourth at state. The Demons captured their second straight Southeast Conference title, and got to this point with a 4-3 win over Keokuk. North Scott was a middle-of-the-pack team in the Mississippi Athletic Conference. After edging Davenport North in eight innings in the quarterfinals, the Lancers handed No. 6 Cedar Rapids Xavier 8-4 in the semis. Anna Boffeli was 4-for-4 with two home runs. Kaitlin Buchholz is batting .444 with 26 extra-base hits and 48 RBIs for the Demons.
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