FORT DODGE — Their roses were red. Their new T-shirts are pink.
And the Kennedy Cougars are the state’s best softball team in Class 5A. Without debate.
Second-ranked Cedar Rapids Kennedy spliced together a four-run rally in the top of the third inning, and that was more than plenty for pitcher Kaylin Kinney. The Cougars defeated No. 1 Fort Dodge, 5-1, for the 5A state championship Thursday night at the Rogers Sports Complex.
“It’s kind of unbelievable,” Kennedy Coach Maddison LeClere said. “I can’t get the smile off my face. We’ve talked about this for a long time, and now that it’s here, it’s unreal.”
Kennedy (26-1) finished the season with 19 straight victories. The Cougars needed 11 innings to outlast Iowa City Liberty in the regional finals, but once they got to Fort Dodge, they were on a level of their own, winning their three games by a 24-5 margin.
“Like (LeClere) has told us all year, if we score three of four runs, we can win any game,” catcher Abby Spore said. “And that proved again tonight to be true.
“It’s been a great ride. We knew we were close, and tonight we did it. We got those big roses, the pink (championship) shirts. That’s what we wanted.”
The title is the first in Kennedy softball history, the first for a Metro team since Cedar Rapids Jefferson went back-to-back in 1997 and 1998.
Both teams loaded the bases with no outs in the third inning. Kennedy tallied four runs; Fort Dodge (28-4) settled for one. And that was the ball game in a nutshell.
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“When we put runs on the board, we’re going to win,” said Kinney, who concluded a remarkable five-year run at Kennedy as the all-tournament captain.
Addie Parker opened Kennedy’s defining rally with a double, then Kinney (intentionally) and Mya Dodge (traditionally) drew walks to fill the bases.
Spore laced a liner to left field. Parker scored easily, and when Dodge overran second base, it forced Kinney to make a break for it from third.
Kinney scored, Dodge made it back safely and Kennedy led 2-0.
The Cougars added a run on Izzy Wright’s groundout and another on Sam Scheck’s single for a 4-0 advantage.
Spore, Dodge and Scheck joined Kinney on the all-tournament team.
Scheck had been a part-time starter at second base. When right fielder Addy Alber suffered a late-season thumb injury, Scheck texted LeClere.
“She told me she was willing to do anything to help the team,” LeClere said. “I gave her an opportunity in right field, and she did everything we could have asked.”
Scheck said, “I was willing to try anything. I took extra balls before and after practice. I stepped up when I had the chance.”
Fort Dodge got within 4-1 in the bottom of the third, then the Cougars added a run in the fifth when Dodge doubled and Keaton Gerber drove her home with an infield single.
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Then it was a matter of counting down the outs. The last one came when Abby Spore threw out Malia Lowrey on a steal attempt of third base.
Spore is the daughter of Julie (Ferrell) Spore, who won a state championship as a left fielder for Webster City in 1988.
Kinney (12-0) held the Dodgers to three hits, two of which didn’t leave the infield. She struck out nine and walked one.
“At the beginning, I had some nerves,” she said. “Then we got some runs, and I was more comfortable.”
Thursday’s joy was a 180-degree turn from Kennedy’s state misery of 2019. LeClere was asked what this team had that made it special.
“What don’t we have? That’s the question,” she said. “There’s something about this team. They were really in sync.”
The Cougars had it all. Power hitting. Pitching depth. Steady defense.
And now roses, T-shirts and a championship.
CEDAR RAPIDS KENNEDY 5, FORT DODGE 1
Class 5A State Championship, at Fort Dodge
C.R. Kennedy 004 010 0 — 5 8 0
Fort Dodge 001 000 0 — 1 3 1
Kaylin Kinney and Abby Spore. Jalen Adams and Tristin Doster. W — Kinney (12-0). L — Adams (20-2).
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