MVC divisional champions collide for state berth

Softball: No. 1 Kennedy hosts Prairie, seeks first trip to Fort Dodge since 1999

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Mississippi Division champion, meet Valley Division champion.

One game. Winner goes to Fort Dodge.

In a remarkable softball season full of benchmarks, top-ranked Cedar Rapids Kennedy (37-4) goes after the biggest one yet Tuesday, when it hosts Cedar Rapids Prairie (25-14) in a Class 5A regional final.

First pitch is 7 p.m.

“Everything is a crap-shoot now,” Cougars Coach Dan Gratz said. “We’ve crossed a lot of things off our checklist this season. But this is the one we want most.”

The Cougars won the MVC Valley Division title (their first in 20 years) and hold the No. 1 ranking (their first ever). If the Cougars win Tuesday, they’ll advance to state for the first time since 1999.

Kennedy will be favored Tuesday, but a win over Prairie — the MVC Mississippi champion — isn’t exactly a slam dunk. The Cougars swept the regular-season doubleheader, but the second game went extra innings.

“With (Natalie) Halvorson on the mound, she’ll keep them in the game,” Gratz said. “We know it’s going to be a good game. Hopefully, things go our way when we need them to.”

Assuming good weather, the state-tournament field will be fully assembled Tuesday night with the completion of 5A and 4A regional finals. The Prairie-Kennedy encounter is one of five games involving area teams.

Also in 5A, No. 9 Cedar Rapids Jefferson (31-8) plays at No. 7 Urbandale (32-9), and No. 6 Iowa City West (31-10) hosts No. 11 Davenport West (29-12).

Jefferson leads the big-school class in numerous offensive categories — batting average (.438), runs (350), home runs (44), on-base percentage (.502) and slugging percentage (.638).

“We’re happy to be playing another day,” Jefferson Coach Brian Erbe said. “Urbandale is really good. They’re one of the best one or two teams in the Des Moines area.”

In Class 4A, Cedar Rapids Xavier (18-24) gets its shot at No. 1 Carlisle (35-6), and No. 5 West Delaware (31-10) hosts Charles City (23-10). 

CLASS 5A REGIONAL FINALS

Cedar Rapids Prairie (25-14) at No. 1 Cedar Rapids Kennedy (37-4), Region 3

• Time: 7 p.m.

• Overview: Kennedy aims to extend what has been a dream season. The Cougars won their first Mississippi Valley Conference division title in 20 years, own their first No. 1 ranking ever and now take a shot at their first state tournament in 17 years. They swept Prairie in a doubleheader June 9, with the second game going extra innings. UNI signee Tianna Drahn (.577, 62 runs, 66 steals) provides the speed at the top of the order while Megan Weber (.543, 13 HR, 56 RBIs) supplies the punch. While Kennedy won the Valley Division title, Prairie claimed top honors in the Mississippi Division for the second straight year. Natalie Halvorson will get the call in the circle for the Hawks; she is 17-8 with a 1.21 ERA and 180 strikeouts. Kennedy Coach Dan Gratz could go with Ashley Winterowd (14-1, 1.09), Jenna Schwartzhoff (16-3, 1.50) or Kaylin Kinney (7-0, 0.38).

No. 11 Davenport West (29-12) at No. 6 Iowa City West (31-10), Region 5

• Time: 7 p.m.

• Overview: The Women of Troy return to the regional finals after suffering a 3-1 upset to Ankeny at that level last year. They face an extremely hot outfit from Davenport; the Falcons have won 18 of their last 19 games, including a 6-2 win over Dubuque Hempstead in the regional semifinals. Iowa City West spotted Cedar Rapids Washington the first run of its regional semi before rolling, 11-1. A pair of future UNI players — junior Taleah Smith (.483, 46 runs, 46 stolen bases) and senior Adara Opiola (.482, 11 home runs, 64 RBIs) trigger the Women of Troy’s attack. Rachel Stewart is hitting .456 with 45 RBIs for the Falcons. Iowa City West won a regular-season matchup between the teams, 3-1, on June 4.

No. 9 Cedar Rapids Jefferson (31-8) at No. 7 Urbandale (32-9), Region 6

• Time: 7 p.m.

• Overview: Jefferson seeks its fourth consecutive state appearance and its 23rd overall. The J-Hawks take 5A’s most potent offense to Central Iowa — they rank No. 1 in 5A in batting average (.438), runs (350), home runs (44), on-base percentage (.502) and slugging percentage (.638). Eight players are hitting better than .400, led by Lindsey Culver at .524. Culver hit for the cycle in Jefferson’s 12-1 win over Linn-Mar in the regional semifinals. Kennedy Dighton is at .495, with Emily Oler at .468 with 11 home runs and 50 RBIs. Oler and her sister Erica Oler moved from Cedar Rapids Washington to Jefferson since last season, and Erica is the No. 1 pitcher at 17-2 and a 1.65 ERA. Urbandale reached the state tournament last year after a 13-year absence, and now chases its second berth in a row. Skyler Shellmyer is hitting .511 with 58 runs and 42 steals. Pitcher Bella Crow is 18-3 with a 1.57 ERA.

 

CLASS 4A REGIONAL FINALS

Charles City (23-10) at No. 5 West Delaware (31-10), Region 3

• Time: 7 p.m.

• Overview: West Delaware earned a share of the Wamac Conference East Division championship, and is a win away from its first state-tournament appearance since 2013. The Hawks advanced to this round with a 1-0 win over Western Dubuque in the regional semifinals on Katelyn Mangold’s fifth-inning RBI. Kristen Wegmann pitched a three-hitter. Maleah Georgen leads a balanced attack with a .379 average and 39 RBIs. Charles City is seeking its 25th state berth, but its first since 2009. The Comets blasted Mason City, 11-0, in the regional semis. Shae Etherington is hitting .521 while Sara Martin (.408) has 11 home runs and 48 RBIs to her credit.

Cedar Rapids Xavier (18-24) at No. 1 Carlisle (35-6), Region 6

• Time: 7 p.m.

• Overview: Xavier won its first two postseason games on the road, and if the Saints can pull a stunner Tuesday, they’ll make their first state trip since 2010. Xavier edged Pella, 3-2, in eight innings in the regional semifinals, its 11th win in its last 15 games. Xavier’s top three hitters are sophomores, led by Katie Langholz at .390. Langholz and Charlotte Richards have 33 RBIs apiece. Carlisle is hitting .440 as a team, the best average by any team in any class. Gabby Schnathorst and Cortney Joiner both are batting .530, and Agatha Beier (.504) has 10 home runs to her credit. Carlisle is chasing its eighth state bid in nine seasons.

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

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