CEDAR RAPIDS — In the history of the world, there are some pretty remarkable dynasties — the Ming Dynasty, for one, and also, maybe, Cedar Rapids Jefferson softball.
The No. 4 J-Hawks earned their 24th state tournament trip Tuesday night, defeating West Des Moines Dowling, 8-0, in a Class 5A regional final at Niemeyer Field.
“It’s our tradition,” junior Lindsey Culver said. “That’s what being a J-Hawk is about, going to Fort Dodge.”
Jefferson (34-8) faces eighth-ranked Fort Dodge (35-7) at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Rogers Sports Complex. It is a familiar trip, one the J-Hawks have made five of the last six years.
“Every year is special,” Jefferson Coach Brian Erbe said. “Going to the state tournament is a very, very special thing. It never gets old. It is always fun. I can’t wait to get up there.”
Culver seemed to be in a hurry to return to Fort Dodge. Her first-inning home run left the park over the fence in left-center like a runaway train.
“I didn’t know it went over at first,” Culver said. “I was pretty excited when I heard the crowd yell.”
Culver knocked in leadoff hitter Olivia Erickson, who had drawn a four-pitch walk.
Dowling (18-18) used three pitchers — two freshmen and an eighth-grader.
“A leadoff walk to start the game with a freshman pitcher that I’m sure had some jitters ... Then obviously, Culver’s home run. That’s not the way we wanted to start in that first inning,” Dowling Coach Matt Murillo said.
Murillo, who had led the Maroons to state last season, knew the two-hour bus ride and a game on the J-Hawks’ home field was a big disadvantage.
Just as Jefferson planned it.
“We talk about that all year long,” Erbe said. “From the very beginning of the season, every game you play, every time you win, it helps you play at home in the postseason. If you don’t take care of business, you have to travel.”
“You can feel the electricity in the air here,” Culver said. “It is just amazing.”
The 2-0 lead proved all J-Hawk senior pitcher Erica Oler needed. She recorded the shutout in the circle, giving up just three hits — none after the third inning.
“Oler was masterful,” Erbe said. “They have some all-staters. Oler kept them off the bases and we made some very good defensive plays.”
She finished with six strikeouts and gave up zero walks.
The J-Hawks added three insurance runs in the third and sixth innings, ironically when Dowling made pitching changes.
“I wanted to keep them off their toes,” Murillo said. “I don’t know how well that worked.”
Jefferson tallied 11 hits, with Erickson, Culver, Oler each hitting two.
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