West wins wild opener, Jefferson earns crown
J-Hawks take nightcap to capture MVC Mississippi
IOWA CITY — After a 13-inning softball game last night, Jessie Harder estimated she had thrown 170 pitches.
It was just a wild guess.
The Iowa City West sophomore hurler wasn’t far off, however, tossing 166 pitches in a 2-0 walk off win in the first game of a Mississippi Valley Conference doubleheader against Cedar Rapids Jefferson. Harder stuck through the entire opener and, even though her coach said he was overly cautious with sending her back to the circle extra inning after extra inning, she still wanted to pitch.
“My defense behind me was absolutely amazing,” Harder said. “(My pitching arm) feels good, it’s fine. I don’t know if I could have gone another 13 innings, but it feels better that it got the win.”
Even though West won the first game, Jefferson took the second, 6-2, to clinch the Mississippi Division title.
The other hero of the 13-inning opener was another underclassmen — Skylar Ryan. The freshman stepped to the plate with two out in the bottom of the 13th, facing the hot-handed Alyssa Olson. Ryan, 1 for 5 at the plate, took Olson’s 1-0 pitch and launched it 10 feet beyond the left field fence for her first career varsity home run.
It was West’s game to win — or lose. It stranded 14 runners throughout the game.
“I was looking for my pitch,” Ryan said. “And since (West shortstop Grace Tafolla) got hurt, I felt I had to do it for her ... I was in it for Grace.”
Tafolla was injured heading to third base after hitting a deep shot at the top of the order in the final inning. Tafolla collided with J-Hawk third baseman Erin Kuba and was called out at the plate.
Designated player Autumn Barthelman followed Tafolla and the 8th-grader came through with a single. Laynie Whitehead’s sacrifice bunt set up the shot for Ryan.
“That was one of the most exciting games I have ever been a part of,” West Coach Justin Lutjen said. ”They weren’t going to lose that game.
“There’s no words that can express — I mean Jessie Harder — that was a masterful performance by her. I was asking her every inning, ‘you want to go again?’ There was no hesitation, she wanted this game. Skylar Ryan picked us up big time. That was a huge, huge play. She got an opportunity and she took advantage.”