Lisbon and Mount Vernon are separated by just a mile or two, and they face virtually an identical softball challenge Monday.
Both hit the road, trying to slay Goliath.
For Lisbon, it’s a 133-mile northward trek to face top-ranked, two-time Class 1A defending state-champion Lansing Kee. For Mount Vernon, it’s a date with top-ranked, defending 3A state-champ Davenport Assumption.
“Everything’s got to work out for us,” Lisbon Coach Bob Bunting said. “We’ve got to score some runs, and that’s not an easy thing to do against them.
“If we play close to a perfect game, I think we have a shot.”
Monday is regional-final night in 1A, 2A and 3A. That includes five games containing area teams.
Mount Vernon is one of three Wamac teams playing for state-tournament berths. All are on the road, and all are underdogs.
The Mustangs (23-17) tackle Assumption (35-3), which — other than three losses to 5A top-ranked Pleasant Valley — hasn’t been beaten by an Iowa opponent since 2016. Williamsburg (25-14) takes a hot streak (20 wins in 22 games) to No. 2 Albia (30-4), and Benton Community (26-14) plays at No. 6 Eddyville EBF (30-7).
Like Bunting, Mount Vernon Coach Robin Brand isn’t shying away from the challenge.
“You know what? I love it,” she said. “Bring it on. (Assumption) has a very good team with a couple really good pitchers. But we have a lot of confidence going right now.”
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No. 10 Iowa City Regina (22-15) visits No. 9 North Linn (38-4) in a 2A encounter, and Lisbon (32-8) takes on Kee High (35-5) in the lone area 1A contest.
All games start at 7 p.m.
Kee had its hands full in the regional semifinals, edging Central City, 2-1, in eight innings. That has to bolster Lisbon’s hopes.
“I hope so,” Bunting said. “Still, that’s a great team. I am very impressed with their speed, taking the extra base. They challenge you constantly on the bases.”
Based on rankings, the Regina-North Linn battle appears to be the best matchup in the area. Jake Koolbeck inherited a Regina program that has won three state titles in the previous seven years.
“It’s been a lot of fun. We’ve played a lot of good, big schools and I think that will gave us well prepared for Monday,” Koolbeck said. “But we’ve got a tough test in front of us. We’ve got to keep their top kids off the bases.”
North Linn’s Hannah Bridgewater leads the state with 74 runs, and Kaitlyn Sommerfelt is sixth with 61. When they get on base, the Flanagan twins — Grace and Abby — generally drive them in.
Monday's Class 3A regional finals
Region 6: Benton Community (26-14) at No. 6 Eddyville EBF (30-7)
Time and site: 7 p.m., at Eddyville
Overview: Benton has reached the regional-final stage for the fifth straight year; the Bobcats are 2-2 at this level since 2014, a run that has netted a 177-31 record highlighted by a 2016 state title. The Bobcats get a lot of mileage out of their first three hitters — Shelby Hulsebus leads the state in hitting at .644, Grace Martensen is second with 63 RBIs, and Angie Gorkow has gone deep 14 times with 51 RBIs. The Bobcats knocked off No. 10 Solon, 4-2, in the regional semis Friday, and meet a balanced Rockets outfit that was the 2A state runner-up last year (they dropped a 16-inning heartbreaker to Iowa City Regina in the final). Randie Richmond is hitting .440 and is the featured pitcher for EBF. She is 19-6 with a 2.24 ERA.
Region 7: Williamsburg (25-14) at No. 2 Albia (30-4)
Time and site: 7 p.m., at Albia
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Overview: Williamsburg is as hot as any team in any class in the area. The Raiders followed a 5-12 start with 20 wins in their last 22 games, and now sit on the doorstep of their first state tournament since 2002. They knocked off 12th-ranked West Liberty, 3-1, in the regional semifinals, but face a steep test Monday. Albia was the 3A state runner-up last year and brings back eight starters from that squad, led by sophomore pitcher Jena Lawrence (21-2, 0.77 ERA), as well as classmate Alex Beard (.491, 6 HR). Williamsburg shared second place in the Wamac Conference East Division. It’s a balanced lineup, with sophomore Jill Holub leading the way in batting average (.396), runs (36) and RBIs (32).
Region 8: Mount Vernon (23-17) at No. 1 Davenport Assumption (35-3)
Time and site: 7 p.m., at Davenport
Overview: To earn its fourth straight state-tournament ticket (and its sixth in 10 years), Mount Vernon must find a way to break up the Assumption juggernaut that has dominated 3A the past two years. Assumption is the defending state champion and owns a 79-4 record in 2017-18. All three of the Knights’ losses have come to Pleasant Valley, the top-ranked team in Class 5A. Hannah Kelley has emerged as the Knights’ top pitcher; she is 18-1 with a 0.36 ERA. Mount Vernon played .500 ball for much of the regular season, but a seven-game winning streak gave the Mustangs a share of the Wamac East title and a spot in this game. Sammy Moss is hitting .435, while Bailey Sullivan (.388) has driven in 53 runs.
Monday's Class 2A regional final
Region 6: No. 10 Iowa City Regina (22-15) at No. 9 North Linn (38-4)
Time and site: 7 p.m., at Troy Mills
Overview: Fresh off its first Tri-Rivers Conference title since 1983 (it was 22-0 in league play), North Linn goes after its first state-tournament berth in school history. To do so, the Lynx must knock off the defending 2A state champions. Regina has been a 2A giant in recent years, winning state titles under Jon Prottsman in 2011, 2015 and 2017. Prottsman stepped down after the season and is succeeded by Jake Koolbeck, and the Regals have withstood a typically arduous schedule. They’ll try to slow a dizzying duo atop the North Linn order. Hannah Bridgewater leads the state with 74 runs, and Kaitlyn Sommerfelt is sixth with 61. They have combined for 107 stolen bases in 111 attempts. The Flanagan twins (Grace and Abby) have 110 RBIs between them.
Monday's Class 1A regional final
Region 4: No. 9 Lisbon (32-8) at No. 1 Lansing Kee (35-5)
Time and site: 7 p.m., at New Albin
Overview: Lisbon makes the 133-mile trip to take on the two-time defending 1A state champions. Kee survived an eight-inning challenge from Central City, 2-1, in the regional semifinals while Lisbon fought past No. 14 Calamus-Wheatland, 4-2. Gazette Female Athlete of the Year finalist Kendra Cooper mas been a mainstay in Kee’s five-year run that has netted three trips to the state finals. The Luther College commit is 24-5 this season with a 0.74 ERA and 273 strikeouts, against 28 walks, and has hit 17 home runs. She’ll be opposed by Skylar Sadler (23-5, 0.82, 204 K, 23 BB). Lisbon Coach Bob Bunting was recently honored as the national coach of the year and has more than 1,100 wins under his belt. The Lions are chasing their seventh state appearance, their first since 2004.
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