JESUP — Kelsey Lough spoke up to get her grandfather’s attention.
“Coach,” she called. “How long do you want me to warm up?”
She called him Coach.
“She always does that here,” said John Begley. “Away from the diamond, she can call me Grandpa. Here, it’s Coach.”
The Begley-Lough, coach-player, grandfather-granddaughter tandem at Jesup High School reaches its final act this week at the Rogers Sports Complex near Fort Dodge, site of the state softball tournament.
That act has resulted in five conference championships, two state bids, and some laughs, tears and hugs.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Lough, an all-state pitcher whose 138 career wins are most among this year’s senior class in Iowa. “I’m glad he decided to come up here and coach us.”
Ten years ago this summer, Begley coached a youthful, talented team from Solon to the 2A state championship. Three more state-tournament appearances followed; the Spartans were third, second and second in 2004, 2005 and 2006.
Begley felt that wasn’t enough to placate the expectations of the Solon community, so he stepped aside.
But he wasn’t ready to be through with coaching.
“Kelsey had come to some of my pitching clinics at Solon, and the Jesup job came open,” Begley recalled.
He was intrigued. And soon, he was hired. The past seven summers, Begley — now 66 — has made the 45-minute drive from his Marion home.
At first, it was a ground-floor program.
“They didn’t have kids at the high-school level that had played much softball,” Begley said. “There wasn’t a feeder program like there is now. Kids were learning the fundamentals when they were in high school, and it was tough.”
Jesup was 10-32 in Begley’s first year, 19-16 in his second.
Year three was the first year that Lough — then an eighth-grader — was eligible to play varsity softball. It picked up drastically from that point.
The J-Hawks have had a stranglehold on North Iowa Cedar League East Division supremacy. They got to the state tournament three years ago, when Lough was a freshman.
And now, somehow, they’ve made it back.
Down 3-1 with two outs, two strikes and nobody aboard in the final inning of last Monday’s regional final against Alburnett, Jesup rallied to tie in the game in the seventh and win it in the eighth, 5-4.
“That’s about as hairy as it can get,” Begley said. “Talk about a character-building situation.”
Lough singled to start the J-Hawks’ winning rally in the eighth. She is batting .388 with 20 extra-base hits (including six home runs) and a team-high 37 RBIs.
But she’s best known for ability — and her composure – in the pitcher’s circle.
Lough is 26-10 this season with a 1.43 ERA. Her 249 strikeouts (against 33 walks, in 219 2/3 innings) rank seventh in the state.
“I think my composure is my best (asset),” Lough said. “I don’t let much bother me. I just try to stay the same in every situation.”
She’s a five-pitch pitcher. Her fastball, curveball and dropball are most effective, and has a riseball and change-up in her arsenal.
“Not every pitch is on every single night,” Begley said. “It takes some time, through warmups and maybe an inning or so, to find what’s working on a given night.”
Begley calls the pitches, and relays them to catcher Ally Flaucher. Lough doesn’t shake her off, but she’s not afraid to discuss strategy and sequences in the dugout between innings.
“Kelsey has a really good attitude toward the game,” Flaucher said. “She keeps her emotions intact, and that helps us pull ourselves out of jams well.”
Lough’s career will end in Fort Dodge — the 11th-ranked J-Hawks (28-12) open with No. 8 Ackley AGWSR (27-7) at 3:30 p.m. Monday, then are guaranteed two more games, win or lose. She intends to pursue a teaching degree and leave softball behind.
It’s not a given that Begley will step down when his granddaughter departs.
“Like I’ve done in the past, I take it one year at a time,” he said. “I don’t think anybody would be stunned if I did step aside.
“But I’m in good health. And the kids here, the people here … they’re good people. It’s enough that makes me very interested in continuing.”