When senior first baseman Taylor Ryan scooped up a ground ball hit by Fairfield’s Lily Hoskins, raced to the bag and touched it with her foot, it touched off a Newton High Cardinal celebration.
“It means a lot to be going to state our senior year,” Ryan said after the 4-1 win Tuesday over visiting Fairfield garnered the 10th-ranked Cardinals a Class 4A Region 5 championship and a berth in the 2018 4A state softball tournament.
“We weren’t taking our lead for granted in this game. We knew anyone can come back so we played to the last out,” Ryan said.
It was a long time coming for the Cardinal softball program.
Thirty-five years ago, a Newton softball team finished fourth in the “summer” state tournament when there were no classifications. The 2018 Cardinals punched their ticket tonight to end the drought. A Newton team did play in the 1986 fall softball state tournament.
“It really hasn’t sunk in yet,” Newton senior left fielder Harlie Durr said just after receiving their state qualifying banner. “We had a lot of energy throughout the team tonight. It just feels good.”
Durr said the Cardinals knew how Fairfield had come from behind in the seventh inning on Saturday to beat No. 6 Oskaloosa.
“We try to take one game at a time. You play your game, have fun and do great,” Durr said.
Finishing their first season on the new Newton Softball Field, the Cardinals did what they do — play solid defense, use their speed on the base paths with small ball and a little power hitting to put pressure on the other team’s defense and stellar pitching.
Junior Peyton Maher made only one mistake in her complete game performance in the circle for the Cardinals. After giving up a two-out solo home run to the Trojans’ Ashtyn Drish in the first inning, Maher was in command keeping the Trojans off balanced with her riseball pitch and fastball.
Fairfield only got one more hit, a single by Hannah Simpson in the fourth inning, against Maher. Maher racked up 12 strikeouts and did not walk a batter. Catching the game was senior Kennedy Leiker.
“I was smiling the entire game. We just had the confidence that we were going to win tonight,” Kennedy Leiker said. “It’s so exciting have the opportunity to go play at the state tournament.”
Newton played errorless defense behind its pitcher.
“I’m so proud of these kids. This is fun and now we go to the state tournament and get after it there,” Newton head coach Casey Price said. Price has guided the Cardinals to a 24-7 season, which is the most wins for a Newton team since a 24-11 2009 season.
Price said the Cardinals spent a lot of time working on their swings with their bats and the Newton pitchers threw every day working on spins to prepare for Tuesday’s game. Another factor was a lineup switch for Newton.
That switch in the lineup had Newton’s top hitter junior shortstop Emily Valtman in the No. 2 hitting spot instead of her usual No. 5 slot. Fairfield pitcher Allison Rebling pitched cautiously to Valtman, who had seven home runs, with one out in the bottom of the first inning.
Valtman earned a walk then moved to second on an called illegal pitch against Rebling. Ryan drew a base-on-balls and Maher made up for her pitching mistake. She ripped an RBI single to center field to tie the game.
On the throw in from the outfield, Ryan moved to third and Maher ended up at second base. Senior center fielder Karley Leiker placed a bunt just over and past the pulled in Trojan infield.
“It’s the best feeling ever,” Karley Leiker said of winning the regional title game. “I just wanted to do what I needed to do for the team.”
Ryan scored and Leiker took off for second base on the play. She was caught in a rundown so Price sent courtesy runner junior Lakin Jenkins home. Leiker was able to get out of the pickle and was safe at second base.
“Against Washington last Saturday, they didn’t pitch to Emily. We moved our lineup around tonight. We knew we had to produce runs like if we didn’t have her. We did and Emily was able to help also,” Price said. “Peyton threw a heck of a game on top of that.”
Newton went to the second inning leading 3-1. The Cardinal defense retired the Trojans in order in the second, third, fifth, sixth and seventh innings.
The Cardinals added run in the third inning. Maher walked and Jenkins went into run for her again. She advanced to second base on a passed ball and Karley Leiker’s sacrifice bunt moved Jenkins to third.
Newton perfectly executed a squeeze bunt play to bring Jenkins home. Durr put down the bunt — Jenkins scored and Durr ended up at second base on the play.
Recording the first out of the seventh inning was senior second baseman Mackenzie Johnson as she caught a pop up from Fairfield’s Drish. Johnson got the starting nod at second for the two regional tournament games.
“There was a lot of pressure at first but when we got out there, I had fun. This means the world to me, going to state my senior year,” Johnson said.
Valtman, who has a .500 batting average for the season, finished with a single and a double. Maher, Karley Leiker, Durr and senior Audrey Lucas each had a single.
“I can’t wait to play at Fort Dodge,” Ryan said.
The Cardinals are the No. 4 seed in next week’s 4A tournament at Fort Dodge. They will play at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday against No. 5 seeded Cedar Rapids Xavier on the Harlan Rogers Park’s Diamond No. 2.
“We’ve had a great season so far with some ups and downs, but this is really exciting,” Lucas said. “I think it’s pretty cool that the last time Newton played in a state tournament my mom played for the team. We’re keeping it in the family.”
Newton joins Little Hawkeye Conference fellow team Dallas Center-Grimes in the 4A state softball tournament. They are in the same side of the bracket. Also making it to the weeklong state tournaments is LHC champion Indianola, which is the No. 2 seed in Class 5A.
Contact Jocelyn Sheets at
641-792-3121 ext. 6535