Kirkwood faces Dawson for district title and national tournament berth

Potent lineup has belted 98 home runs

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Maddie Hansen has played on some special softball teams.

She played on a World Series winner as a youth before she contributed to state tournament teams at Cedar Rapids Jefferson. Even in her first year at Kirkwood, she played for a team that finished fifth at the NJCAA Division II national tournament.

None of those teams match the current Eagles, who are ranked second nationally and will travel to Dawson Community College in Glendive, Mont., for a best-of-three district series, starting Thursday. The winner advances to the national tournament May 17-20 in Clinton, Miss.

“I don’t think I’ve been on a team like this before,” Hansen said. “Everyone wants to do everything for the team all the time. It’s not about ourselves.

“The family atmosphere has helped a lot. We’re so close off the field that it makes things work on the field so much easier.”

Kirkwood (52-4) will face Dawson (23-10) in District H play for the second straight season. The Eagles swept the Buccaneers last year, receiving five hits and eight RBIs from Hansen. She can’t think of anyone she’d rather ride with for 13 hours.

“I think it will be fun,” said Hansen, who leads Kirkwood with 18 home runs and 90 RBIs. “It’s always fun to take a road trip.

“The bus trip is bonding time to get us pumped up for those games.”

The Eagles have already pumped up for 98 home runs, which is one shy of third on the program’s all-time list. Ten players have home runs and at least two from each in the regular batting order. The Eagles are also hitting at a .447 clip with a .502 on-base percentage.

“One through seven are hot,” Kirkwood Coach Joe Yegge said. “That’s a powerful lineup. It’s a pretty scary lineup.”

Hansen leads the team with 18 home runs, one off 2016 National Player of the Year Taylor Nearad. Six have double-digit homers, helping Kirkwood average more than 11 runs a game.

“We try to go for that,” said Nearad, who earned Regional Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year with a .530 batting average and 17 home runs, giving her a school record 47. “It’s like our goal every game to get big numbers, but to get a lot of runs to support our pitcher.”

Pitchers Lexi Kinnaird and Angie McBeain earned first-team all-region, along with Hansen, Nearad, DoniRae Mayhew, Morgan Frost and leadoff hitter Lexi Ferrari. Monika Bevans was a third-teamer, while Audra Bridenstine received honorable mention.

Kinnaird and McBeain have combined for a 47-4 mark, helping the Eagles to a 1.56 earned-run average. McBeain also contributes at the plate, hitting .430 with 11 home runs. Kinnaird leads the team with 28 victories, giving her 53 and breaking the career mark of 50 set by Amanda Lambrecht (2010-11).

One of their few losses — an 8-5 road setback to DMACC — refocused the Eagles, who are unbeaten since against D-II competition. They re-established their competitive edge and destroyed regional foes, 50-5, to face Dawson.

“When we got beat by DMACC, we talked we’re not going to leave a doubt,” Yegge said. “We’re going to run through everybody. We’re not holding back anymore.”

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