J-Hawks state hopes stranded

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CEDAR RAPIDS -- Getting 'em on, that was the easy part.

Getting 'em in, that was elusive. Heartbreakingly elusive.

Fourth-ranked Cedar Rapids Jefferson stranded a runner in scoring position in six of seven innings, and suffered a 2-1 defeat to No. 10 Davenport West in a Class 5A softball regional final Tuesday night at the Jefferson Softball Complex.

"We just didn't execute when we had runners on base," Jefferson's Kailey Drake said afterward outside a tear-filled Jefferson dugout. "It's very disappointing.

"We thought we could do it. We came in with the attitude that we could win. It's hard to let ourselves down."

The J-Hawks were beaten in the regional finals for the third straight year and finished 36-6. It marked the end of the high-school careers of six seniors -- Rachel Sedlacek, Drake, Kenna Fry, Hannah McInerney, Hannah Petersen and Carson Burgart.

"These kids wanted this so much," said Jefferson Coach Larry Niemeyer, who -- though illness kept him away from nearly half of the season -- said that he intends to return next season.

"Maybe they wanted it too much. We didn't play bad. But we didn't take advantage of situations. We had trouble scoring runs against good pitchers this year."

West (31-10) advances to next week's state tournament at the Rogers Sports Complex, Fort Dodge. The Falcons will face No. 6 Des Moines East at 7:30 next Tuesday night.

"We haven't been there since I was an eighth-grader," said West's Samie Belz, who hit a home run, then earned the save in the pitching circle in relief of Shyanne Saladino. "We stuck together, and we didn't get down when we made mistakes."

Most importantly, they didn't buckle when the J-Hawks got runners on base, which was often.

Four times, Jefferson got the leadoff batter aboard. Only once did it capitalize.

Belz's home run put West in front, 1-0, in the second, but Jefferson answered in the bottom of the third.

Drake reached on an error, stole second, then scored when Maddie Hansen won an eight-pitch at bat with a hard single up the middle.

West reclaimed the lead in the fourth. Lexi Quandt tripled off the right-field fence, then scored on Mallory Moore's single off the left-field fence.

Jefferson's best chance after that came in the fifth, when Drake doubled and reached third on a wild pitch with one out. After Hansen walked, Belz came on to pitch.

The first offering to Fry was a hard ground ball to second baseman Maddy Zemba, who tagged out pinch-runner Savannah Fowler and threw out Fry at first for a rally-killing double play.

Petersen (18-4), who concluded a tremendous five-year stint as the J-Hawks' No. 1 pitcher, suffered the loss despite striking out 13 and allowing four hits.

"She's been outstanding," Niemeyer said. "I feel sad for them. Really sad for them. This was the focal point for them all year long."

5A Regional Final RHE
Davenport West0 1 01 0 00--243
Cedar Rapids Jefferson0 0 10 0 00--140

Shyanne Saladino, Samie Belz (5) and Lexi Quandt. Hannah Petersen and Maddie Hansen. W -- Saladino (17-3). L -- Petersen (18-4). HR -- West: Samie Belz (5).

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