Cedar Rapids Kennedy a sweep away from ending a 20-year MVC drought

Softball: Valley Division leaders Kennedy, West have 2 losses in league play

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CEDAR RAPIDS — It has been 20 years since Cedar Rapids Kennedy last won a Mississippi Valley Conference softball championship.

“Is that all?” Coach Dan Gratz said. “I thought, as much as Larry Niemeyer dominated the league (at Cedar Rapids Jefferson), it might have been longer than that.”

Nope, just 20 years. The long wait could end Tuesday.

Class 5A third-ranked Kennedy (34-4 overall, 22-2 MVC) wraps up its regular season with a doubleheader at Dubuque Senior. Win two, and the Cougars are guaranteed no less than a Valley Division title share — their first since 1996.

Iowa City West (27-9, 20-2) finishes with twinbills against Linn-Mar (Tuesday, away) and Dubuque Hempstead (Wednesday, at home).

“It just shows the progress this program has made,” said senior outfielder Tianna Drahn. “It shows how hard every girl here has worked to become one of the best programs in the state. It has taken three years to get to this point.”

Kennedy and West have been the class of the MVC this season, simply because they have avoided any bad losses within the league. The Cougars and the Women of Troy split with each other, and also split with Cedar Rapids Jefferson (29-7, 19-5).

“Jefferson’s a great team and stole one from us,” Gratz said. “When we played West, both of those games could have gone either way.”

Drahn was a freshman when Kennedy was 13-25 in 2013. Gratz took over the program the next year, and progress began immediately.

“I think the term that describes our team is ‘together,’” Drahn said. “We’re all on the same page. We have a lot of strong-headed people on our team. You can’t completely avoid drama with a bunch of girls, but we sure haven’t had much. We genuinely all like each other.”

How a sports season is remembered generally hinges on the postseason. But a divisional title isn’t something to be taken lightly.

“It would mean a lot,” Gratz said. “It really would. It’s one of those things we’ve wanted.”

Cedar Rapids Prairie (23-13, 17-7) has wrapped up a share of its second straight Mississippi Division title. The Hawks host Waterloo East on Tuesday.

POSTSEASON OPENS IN 2A, 1A

All of the area ranked teams get a free pass out of the first round as Class 2A and Class 1A regionals begin Tuesday, but there are a couple of good 2A matchups right out of the chute.

South Winneshiek (21-12) hosts Sumner-Fredericksburg (21-10) in a Region 4 opener, and West Branch (15-15) visits Maquoketa Valley (24-14) in Region 5.

Quarterfinals in 3A, 2A and 1A are Wednesday, and the postseason kicks off in 5A and 4A on Thursday.

TUESDAY’S CLASS 2A FIRST ROUND

(All games, 7 p.m.)

Region 4

Lake Mills (10-17) at Saint Ansgar (14-12)

Sumner-Fredericksburg (21-10) at South Winneshiek (21-12)

Region 5

West Branch (15-15) at Maquoketa Valley (24-14)

South Hardin (4-24) at South Hamilton (17-11)

Region 6

Tipton (6-24) at Wapello (23-8)

Van Buren (8-11) at Pekin (10-13)

Region 7

Starmont (8-16) at MFL MarMac (11-19)

Hudson (4-12) at Dike-New Hartford (11-11)

TUESDAY’S CLASS 1A FIRST ROUND

(7 p.m. unless noted otherwise)

Region 3

Riceville (3-24) at Turkey Valley (12-18)

Elkader Central (7-24) at Janesville (17-20)

Edgewood-Colesburg (10-24) at Dunkerton (11-14), 5:30 p.m.

West Central (12-23) at East Buchanan (13-22)

Tripoli (1-16) at North Butler (23-3)

Nashua-Plainfield (1-19) at Clarksville (15-11)

Region 4

BGM (12-13) at Montezuma (12-12)

English Valleys (8-13) at Don Bosco (20-11), 5:30 p.m.

Iowa Valley (9-17) at North Tama (16-10)

Easton Valley (4-28) at Bellevue Marquette (22-14)

Midland (0-23) at Belle Plaine (15-9)

Springville (8-32) at HLV (6-11)

Region 5

WACO (1-16) at Danville (11-12)

Twin Cedars (3-20) at Moravia (17-9)

Moulton-Udell (6-18) at Cardinal (14-16)

Winfield-Mount Union (1-10) at Iowa Mennonite (6-10)

Keota (0-5) at Sigourney (13-11)

Tri-County (6-10) at Lone Tree (11-14)

l Comments: (319) 368-8857; jeff.linder@thegazette.com

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