116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
FORT DODGE — When Chad Spore was hired as softball coach at North Linn High School last fall, he was hesitant to utter the phrase “state championship.”
“I wanted to prepare them to compete at the state tournament,” Spore said. “But I didn’t want to set them up for failure, so I didn’t say anything about championships.”
He can now.
All-tournament captain Skylar Benesh doubled home Olivia Rauch in the bottom of the fifth inning for the game’s lone run, then followed that with a spectacular catch in the field to lead second-ranked North Linn past No. 7 Earlham in the Class 2A title game, 1-0, Thursday night at the Rogers Sports Complex.
“I’m so happy for the whole team,” said Benesh, a freshman. “We did this for each other.”
North Linn (42-6) won its second 2A title in three years. The Lynx captured the 2019 title under Marv Porter, then settled for second place last year. With several key players graduating after the 2020 season, this appeared to be a summer of transition.
Hardly. Instead, was another run to glory.
Benesh, who was 7 for 11 in the three games here this week, was one of five North Linn players on the all-tournament unit. She was joined by pitcher Ellie Flanagan, who blanked the Cardinals (34-10) on four hits, along with Rauch, Jill Smith and Kaitlyn Sommerfelt.
The Lynx had scored 13 runs in their first two games of the state tournament; Earlham had tallied 16. So the last thing anyone could have expected was a 1-0 pitchers’ duel.
“I thought we were going to come out better with our bats,” Smith said. “We didn’t string our hits together, but it all worked out.”
The Lynx had just two hits through the first four innings. But Rauch led off the bottom of the fifth with a single, then came all the way around to score on Benesh’s deep drive to straightaway center.
“I wanted us to be the first team on the board,” Benesh said. “I wanted to go up to the plate calm and relaxed.”
Shortly after Benesh giveth, Benesh taketh away.
Earlham threatened in the sixth, with runners at second and third and one out. Alexis Voss hit a rocket to the left side, but Benesh jumped to her right to rob her.
“I saw it off the bat and I thought, ‘I have a chance to go get this ball,’” Benesh said. “I was able to jump up and get it.”
Flanagan got Allison Beatty to hit a ground ball back to the circle, and threw her out to drench the threat.
“(Benesh) saved us one, two ... maybe three runs this game,” Spore said.
After yielding five runs in the semifinals, Flanagan (24-2) was sharp Thursday. She struck out only three, but her team made plays behind her, both routine and not-so-routine.
“I tried not to get too high, and I trust my defense,” she said. “I know how well they can play out there.”
Earlham had a runner at third base in the first, second and sixth innings. But each time, Flanagan made key pitches.
“She was lights-out tonight,” Spore said.
NORTH LINN 1, EARLHAM 0
Class 2A State Championship, at Fort Dodge
Earlham 000 000 0 — 0 4 1
North Linn 000 010 x — 1 6 2
Madeline Janssen and Alli Boyle. Ellie Flanagan and Jenna Lemley. W — Flanagan (24-2). L — Janssen (24-5).