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FORT DODGE — They were four outs away. They were cruising.
“I knew we’d have to play near-perfect ball,” Solon Coach Jim White said. “For almost six innings, we played as well as we’ve played all year.”
Then, suddenly, the train came off the tracks.
Four late errors set the table, then home runs by Emma Valainis and Ashley Ackerman sent second-ranked Davenport Assumption past No. 3 Solon, 5-2, in a Class 3A semifinal at the state softball tournament Thursday afternoon at the Rogers Sports Complex.
Assumption (41-4) won its 26th straight game and will play for the championship at 10:10 Friday morning against No. 1 Benton Community (42-2).
The events of the last two innings, Ackerman said, were “all a whirlwind.” The short version is this: Solon (33-10), which had played so well and pitched so well for the majority of the game, couldn’t seal the deal, and Valainis and Ackerman made them pay.
“We never go away,” Ackerman said. “As long as we have a bat in our hands, we have a chance.”
Last year’s 3A champion, Solon held a 2-0 lead after Jess Heick hit a solo home run in the top of the sixth inning. Then, Spartans pitcher McKenna Miller (21-5) retired the first two batters in the bottom of the sixth.
But Ackerman reached on a dropped foul ball, and that brought up Valainis, who deposited the first pitch over the right-center field fence to tie it at 2-apiece.
A dropped fly ball (with one out) and a bobbled ground ball (with two outs) stoked the winning seventh-inning rally. With a full count, Ackerman made the winning swing, to straight center field.
“I battled off the pitches I didn’t want, then I got the one I wanted,” Ackerman said. “I did what I needed to.”
White said, “We just didn’t make plays a the end. We had a chance, but we didn’t make plays.”
Solon faces Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley in the third-place game at 9:30 a.m. Friday.
“It’s just a big honor to play at state,” Heick said. “It would have been great to win it, but finishing third is better than finishing second, and if we stick to that mentality, we’ll be OK.”
The Spartans struck first. Sydney Lawson walked to lead off the game, stole second and third bases, then scored on Monika Bevans’ sacrifice bunt.
DAVENPORT ASSUMPTION 5, SOLON 2
Class 3A State Semifinal, at Fort Dodge
Solon 100 001 0 — 2 2 5
Davenport Assumption 000 002 3 — 5 5 1
McKenna Miller and Monika Bevans. Nicole Timmons and Emma Valainis. W — Timmons (21-3). L — Miller (21-5). HR — SOL: Jess Heick (8), DA: Emma Valainis (10), Ashley Ackerman (4).
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