116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
TROY MILLS — A seemingly safe lead wasn’t so safe anymore. Momentum was not on their side.
The North Linn Lynx badly needed an insurance run.
They got more. They got four.
Top-ranked North Linn assembled four consecutive two-out hits in the bottom the sixth inning — capped by Ellie Flanagan’s two-run home run — and held off No. 15 Central City, 9-4, in a Class 1A softball regional final Monday night at North Linn High School.
“What a huge relief,” said sophomore Skylar Benesh, who went 4-for-4 to spearhead a 14-hit attack. “When we first saw Central City on the other side of this bracket, we knew it wasn’t going to be easy.”
The Class 2A state champion in 2019 and 2021, North Linn advances to state for the fourth consecutive year. The Lynx (32-8) face Mason City Newman (25-9) in a 1A quarterfinal at 5 p.m. next Tuesday at the Rogers Sports Complex, Fort Dodge.
They’ll be bringing a rejuvenated offense.
“What a lift this was for what had been a hurting offense,” Lynx Coach Chad Spore said. “We feel now that this is a complete team heading to state.”
This wasn’t your run-of-the-mill pitcher that the Lynx attacked. Central City senior Sara Reid is a bona fide ace who entered the game with a 0.86 ERA and 278 strikeouts.
“She likes to get ahead in the count, so we tried to attack that first pitch,” Benesh said.
That’s what Benesh did on the first offering of the game, hitting a double down the left-field line. The Lynx didn’t score there, but they struck for two unearned runs in the bottom of the second inning on Evalyn Robinson’s two-out single.
North Linn tacked on three more tallies in the third, on five hits. Jill Smith connected for her eighth home run of the year — a two-run shot — then Sydney Smock’s RBI single made it 5-0.
Central City (34-8) didn’t fold. The Wildcats got the first three batters on base in the fourth, and Avery Wise’s groundout got them on the board.
A two-run double by Natalie Noonan and an RBI infield single cut the margin to 5-4 through five innings.
“We got back to 5-4, and I felt really good,” Central City Coach Dave Johnson said. “I thought the momentum was changing. We have come back from deficits quite a few times, and I thought we might do it again.
“But it just wasn’t in the cards.”
Reid retired the first two batters in the bottom of the sixth.
Benesh doubled, then scored on Smith’s single for that important insurance run.
“We just tried to stay level-headed,” Smith said. “All you can do is what you can control. And that’s what we did.”
Jenna Lemley doubled Smith home, then Flanagan slammed the door with a bomb over the left-center fence.
“I was just thinking, hit the ball. Focus on hitting the ball,” Flanagan said.
Smith and Flanagan collected two hits apiece. So did Mackenzie Bridgewater as the Lynx’s top five hitters went 11-for-20.
Bailie Weber collected three of Central City’s eight hits and reached base four times.
North Linn 9, Central City 4
Class 1A Regional Final, at Troy Mills
Central City 000 130 0 — 4 8 2
North Linn 023 004 x — 9 14 1
Sara Reid and Bailie Weber. Ellie Flanagan and Jenna Lemley. W — Flanagan (21-6). L — Reid (28-6). HR — NL: Jill Smith (8), Flanagan (5).