At first blush, Maddison LeClere seemed to be talking in circles.
“It’s something you don’t want to remember,” LeClere said, regarding Cedar Rapids Kennedy’s regional-softball difficulties. “And it’s something you don’t want to forget.”
Kennedy has developed into one of the state’s premier Class 5A programs, compiling a 143-21 record through the past four seasons. So far, though, the Cougars have just one state-tournament appearance to show for it.
The Cougars were ranked No. 1 in 2016 when they were tripped up by Cedar Rapids Prairie in the regional finals. They broke through and finished third at state in 2017, then lost in the regional semifinals last year to Linn-Mar.
This year’s fate will be determined Tuesday, when No. 3 Kennedy (36-2) hosts Prairie (29-11) in a regional final. First pitch is 7 p.m.
It’s one of four games Tuesday involving area teams. No. 6 Iowa City High (33-7) hosts No. 11 Dubuque Hempstead (32-7) in the other area 5A game.
In Class 4A, Iowa City Liberty (21-21) is at No. 5 Independence (29-11), and No. 6 West Delaware (29-10) hosts No. 9 DeWitt Central (28-8).
Winners advance to the state tournament next week at Rogers Sports Complex, Fort Dodge.
Kennedy opened postseason play with a 4-0 win over Waterloo West, and though the margin of victory appeared underwhelming against a six-win team, LeClere was perfectly fine with it.
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“It was a huge step forward,” the third-year head coach said. “The score doesn’t matter. It’s win and move on.
“I could tell there was a little haunting from last year in the back of the kids’ minds.”
And thus, the meaning to LeClere’s don’t-remember, don’t-forget logic.
“I know I don’t want to feel like we did last year,” she said. “But you can’t let it weigh on you, either. You bring it up, forgive and forget, and move on.”
Kennedy swept Prairie in a doubleheader June 6, 7-0 and 1-0. Those were two of 20 shutouts the Cougars have posted this season.
“I’m really confident in our pitching,” LeClere said. “Our defense, too ... it doesn’t seem like we go into a lapse in which we have error after error.”
Speaking of pitchers, Liberty runs into a very good one in Mackenzie Hupke. The senior and Drake recruit sports a 19-6 record and 0.51 ERA, and has struck out 262 batters in 180 innings.
“I saw her pitch at the Iowa City West tournament, and I know she’s a strikeout pitcher,” Liberty Coach Jeff Kelley said. “She makes it hard to score runs.”
Tuesday's area softball regional finals
All games 7 p.m.
Cedar Rapids Prairie (29-11) at No. 3 Cedar Rapids Kennedy (36-2)
The last time these teams met in a regional final (2016), Kennedy was No. 1 and Prairie pulled a big upset. The Cougars have a big pitching advantage; their 0.55 ERA (fashioned by Kaylin Kinney and Jayme Scheck) is by far the best in 5A, and the Cougars have allowed 22 runs all season. That includes 7-0 and 1-0 verdicts against Prairie on June 6. At the plate, Kinney has been walked (usually intentionally) 48 times, but still has found the opportunity to hit 14 home runs. Prairie is far too good to be taken lightly. The Hawks have a nice mix of experience (senior pitcher Payton Akers is 15-4) and youth (the top four hitters are freshmen and sophomores, led by Alexis Barden at .414).
Region 5: No. 11 Dubuque Hempstead (32-7) at No. 6 Iowa City High (33-7)
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Along with Ottumwa-Muscatine, this is the game of the night in 5A. City High won a pair of one-run decisions May 23, and this promises to be just as dramatic. The Little Hawks have won 12 of their last 13 games, but had to sweat out an extra-inning win over Davenport West in the regional semifinals. Hempstead has been victorious in 15 of its last 16 contests. City leads 5A in home runs with 52, including 17 by Ayana Lindsey (.480, 69 runs) and 12 by Carey Koenig (.463, 48 RBIs). Hempstead will try to neutralize that power behind the pitching of Malarie Huseman (20-5, 1.10, 188 strikeouts). Katie Schaul is hitting .469 with 46 RBIs for the Mustangs.
Region 5: Iowa City Liberty (21-21) at No. 5 Independence (29-11)
This is a much more even matchup than rankings would indicate. Liberty opened some eyes with a five-inning, 11-0 waxing of No. 11 Cedar Rapids Xavier on Saturday, scoring eight runs in the first inning. That included a three-run home run by University of Iowa commit Brylee Klosterman; the junior is hitting .482 with 17 doubles this season. Independence has found its groove after an 8-7 start, following with 21 wins in its last 25 games. Senior pitcher Mackenzie Hupke, a Drake signee, is 19-6 with a 0.51 ERA and 262 strikeouts in 180 innings. Hupke is hitting .400 with 21 extra-base hits, and Allie Jo Zieser leads the Mustangs’ attack at .409, 35 runs and 28 RBIs.
Region 7: No. 9 DeWitt Central (28-8) at No. 6 West Delaware (29-10)
The determination of a champion in the Wamac Conference East Division remains somewhat ambiguous — Central claims the best winning percentage at 18-5, while West Delaware and Solon won the most games, finishing 20-6. Nonetheless, Tuesday’s result at Manchester trumps whatever the conference determines. The teams battled to a split July 3 at DeWitt. West Delaware is a team that gets its strength from its whole rather than individual parts. Eight players are batting .320 or better, led by soph Eve Wedewer at .453 and 39 runs, and pitchers Emily Klostermann (17-5) and Macey Kleitsch (12-5) have similar numbers. McKenzie Rosenboom has 11 home runs and 48 RBIs for the Sabers, seeking their first state trip since 2005.
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