DES MOINES — Playing their best softball of the 2013 season, Newton Senior High’s Cardinals did not go quietly into the night in their Iowa Class 4A regional tournament opener.
The Cardinals — a young team led by two seniors — pushed a senior-laden Des Moines Hoover High Huskies’ team right to the brink Thursday. They bowed out of the playoffs on a 2-1 loss.
First-year head coach Ashley Ryan has been touting that her team was playing better each outing through the final weeks of the regular season. The only regrets seniors Sarita Smith and Sarah Tingle have for the 2013 season are that it is over and they lost Thursday’s playoff game.
“As seniors, we knew we were going to come into this season struggling because we’re a young team,” said Smith, who plays center field, following the game. Newton finished 8-26. “A lot of the players, it was their first year to play varsity.
“Just as coach said, if we could watch a video of our first game of the season and one of tonight’s, we’d see the proof of our progress. We went into tonight’s game with our heads up and we were focused to be in this game and not just go through the motions and go home.”
For Newton’s right fielder Sarah Tingle, it was a good senior season.
“Our record doesn’t show it but I’m very proud of my teammates, especially how far the younger players have come this season. We’ve really bonded as a team and gotten so much better,” Tingle said.
Smith set the tone at the plate for the visiting Cardinals with a slap single in the first inning. Newton had two runners on with one out but didn’t produce any runs. But there was no back-down in the Newton girls Thursday night.
Junior pitcher Ashton Hoffman and freshman catcher Sydney Jenkins worked well together, keeping the Hoover batters off-balance. Hoffman only allowed two hits, both came in the fourth inning when the Huskies scored twice. Jenkins picked off two Hoover base runners.
In the bottom of the first. Hoover’s Madison Blackford drew a walk and moved to third base on two sacrifice plays. With pitcher Taylor Blackford at the plate, Jenkins caught Madison Blackford in no-man’s land between third and home. The Cardinals quickly recorded the third out when sophomore third baseman Sarah Kalkhoff applied the tag to complete the rundown play.
Newton scored a run in the second inning. Kari Adams, the Cardinals’ freshman shortstop, singled to left field and ended up at second on an error on the play. Freshman second baseman Fran Lucas laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt, moving Adams to third base.
Morgan Davros, junior left fielder, laced an RBI base hit to center field. The Cardinals made the 1-0 lead stand up until the bottom of the fourth.
Hoover took advantage of the only defensive bobble the Cards made all night.
With two gone in the fourth, Natalie Clark singled to center field after spraying foul balls left and right. Taylor Blackford walked and Lexi Larson went in as a courtesy runner.
The Huskies’ Lauren Provost connected for a single to left field to drive in a run. Newton’s Davros made a strong throw to Jenkins to hold Larson at third. Jenkins made a snap throw to second base trying to cut down Provost but Lucas wasn’t able to secure the ball for the tag. That gave Larson enough time to scamper home for the go-ahead run.
“I’m very proud of these ladies. One little mistake. If it goes the other way, it’s a whole other ballgame,” said Coach Ryan. “That’s how the cookie crumbles a little bit.
“If we could start from right now, our season would be totally different. It’s night and day difference. These young ladies have grown as players and as a team.”
Ryan said the coaches have emphasized to the Cardinal players that “every out is a gift” so they would be solid defensively and stay focused. She said that earlier in the season, a little incident like the fourth-inning error would have ballooned against the Cardinals.
“Tonight, the girls stayed focused. We just couldn’t break back offensively against them,” Ryan said.
Hoffman and the Cardinals retired the Huskies (21-19) in order in the fifth and sixth innings. Hoffman issued three walks in the game.
Smith led the Cardinal offense with two singles. Adams and Davros each had a base hit.
“We wanted to fight for this one. We knew it was our last game if we didn’t win so we were ready to play,” Smith said.
“It was a clean slate starting tonight. The season was behind us. We went into the game with a lot of confidence,” Tingle said.
Confidence is a word Cardinal Coach Ryan used also in describing her team.
“We’ve been playing with so much more confidence in the field and with the bats. We lose two seniors. We’re very young and these girls have grown from Day 1 to now,” Ryan said.