How, exactly, will John Begley get his team back to ground level?
“That’s a very good question,” said Begley, softball coach at Linn-Mar. “It’s something we’re going to address. Our win (Saturday, over No. 2 Cedar Rapids Kennedy), that was a very big deal. It was probably the best game I’ve ever been involved in.
“But now we’ve got to bring it back down and get focused for the next one.”
The “next one” for the Lions (23-19) is a big one, a Class 5A regional final against Iowa City High (23-18), with the victor advancing to the state tournament. First pitch is 7 p.m. Tuesday at City High.
It’s one of five games involving area teams. Also in 5A, No. 4 Cedar Rapids Jefferson (33-8) hosts West Des Moines Dowling (18-17).
In 4A, No. 11 Cedar Rapids Xavier (24-16) hosts Keokuk (18-18), Marion (19-16) is at No. 5 Independence (33-6) and Center Point-Urbana (22-16) goes to No. 4 Charles City (32-6).
Linn-Mar and City High collectively wrecked the 5A Region 6 bracket Saturday. The Lions stunned Kennedy, 4-3, in 10 innings, while City High outslugged No. 15 Cedar Rapids Prairie, 16-8.
“That was some night,” said Begley, who earned his 700th career victory. “We played, by our standards, basically a perfect game. If we have the same mentality, we have a chance to win the next one.”
This is new stuff for young, up-and-coming City High, which hasn’t reached the state tournament since 2001.
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“We’ve got to figure out how to navigate these waters,” Little Hawks Coach Jeff Koenig said. “At this point, we’re playing with house money.”
For Jefferson, meanwhile, this is old hat. The J-Hawks are pursuing their 24th state tournament, their fifth in the last six years. They are facing another proud program, but this isn’t your typical Dowling team.
“They have some very, very good all-state-caliber players, but they’re struggling with their pitching this year,” Jefferson Coach Brian Erbe said. “I think it’s a good matchup for us. We’re at home, and we have a 6-foot-2 pitcher (Erica Oler) going for us.”
Underdog Marion chases its first state appearance since 1999, Xavier its first since 2010. The Saints’ opponent is a surprise; Keokuk upset No. 7 North Scott in the regional semifinals, 9-6.
“We didn’t plan on playing at home; we thought we’d be going to North Scott,” Saints Coach Nikki Gahring said. “This is a pleasant surprise.
“Keokuk has some kids with a lot of speed, some other kids with a lot of power. We’ve got to be ready to hit, ready to put the ball in play.”
Tuesday's Class 5A regional finals
Region 5: West Des Moines Dowling (18-17) at No. 4 Cedar Rapids Jefferson (33-8)
Time and site: 7 p.m., at Niemeyer Field
Overview: Two of the state’s most tradition-rich big-school programs collide with a state berth on the line. Jefferson has made 23 state appearances, Dowling 15. Both have won three state titles. Jefferson has scored 49 runs in its last five games, including an 11-1 regional-semifinal win over Waterloo West. Lindsey Culver leads the team in hitting (.569) and RBIs (40), and has clubbed 32 extra-base hits. Erica Oler (25-5, 1.17 ERA) will get the pitching call. This has been a down year by Dowling standards, but it would be silly to overlook the Maroons, who edged Cedar Falls, 2-1, in the regional semifinals. Five Dowling hitters are hitting above .400, led by Hallie Ketcham at .440.
Region 6: Linn-Mar (23-19) at Iowa City High (23-18)
Time and site: 7 p.m., at City High
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Overview: So who had the Lions and the Little Hawks as the last two teams standing in this region? Linn-Mar pulled the upset of the 5A tournament so far, knocking off No. 2 Cedar Rapids Kennedy, 4-3, in 10 innings. That gave John Begley his 700th career win. City High, meanwhile, jumped on No. 15 Cedar Rapids Prairie with 13 runs in the first three innings and cruised to a 16-8 victory. Another win would put the Little Hawks in the state tournament for the first time since 2001. City’s top five hitters consist of three sophomores and two freshmen. Carey Koenig has eight home runs and 53 RBIs. Linn-Mar is a more veteran outfit. Ariana Rolle (.459, 36 runs) and Ally Johnson (.402) are seniors. So is pitcher Katie Smith (15-16), who will try to slow the City attack.
Tuesday's Class 4A regional fianls
Region 6: Keokuk (18-18) at No. 11 Cedar Rapids Xavier (24-16)
Time and site: 7 p.m., at Bob Erusha Field
Overview: Xavier is peaking at the right time; the Saints have won eight consecutive games and 10 of their last 11. They figured to be hitting the road for this game, but Keokuk’s upset of No. 7 North Scott keeps the Saints at home with hopes of getting to state for the first time since 2010. The Saints advanced with a 1-0 win over Iowa City Liberty, in which freshman Kya Loffswold drove in the lone run, in the fifth inning. Maria Steffen made it stand up with a 10-strikeout three-hitter. Keera Ball is hitting .413 and has scored 39 runs, and Charlotte Richards (.397) has knocked in 43 runs. Keokuk’s Michaela Davis is hitting .524 with 41 runs, and is 30-for-30 in stolen-base attempts.
Region 7: Marion (19-16) at No. 5 Independence (33-6)
Time and site: 7 p.m., at Independence
Overview: Wamac Conference West Division champion Independence is looking to duplicate its outcome from June 11, when it swept the Indians by 5-0 and 8-3 verdicts. The Mustangs advanced with a 4-2 win over Dubuque Wahlert; Marion knocked off Western Dubuque, 6-4. Somebody is going to end a fairly lengthy state drought — Marion’s lone appearance came in 1999; Independence was a Fort Dodge regular from 2000 through 2005, but hasn’t returned since. Mackenzie Hupke fuels the Mustangs in multiple ways; she leads the team in hitting at .427 with 39 RBIs, and also owns a 22-3 pitching record with a 0.86 ERA and 169 strikeouts. Marion has a star in Sydney Nielsen (.455, 9 HR, 36 RBIs).
Region 8: Center Point-Urbana (22-16) at No. 4 Charles City (32-6)
Time and site: 7 p.m., at Charles City
Overview: CPU didn’t exactly come into the postseason on a high (five losses in its last six regular-season games) but regional wins over Decorah and Waverly-Shell Rock have the Stormin’ Pointers in range for their fourth state trip in five seasons. Seniors Olivia Brecht (.483, 57 runs) and Maddie Karr (.380, 33 RBIs) have been a big part of that recent success, and add in the emergence of sophomore Reagan Schutte (.426, 12 HR, 49 RBIs), and CPU has the offense to give itself a shot. Charles City is the Northeast Iowa Conference champion. The Comets started 30-2, but have been more vulnerable lately and had to sweat out a 2-1 win over Mason City in the regional semifinals. Pitcher Samantha Heyer is 22-3 with a 0.68 ERA and 251 K’s; Lisabeth Fiser is hitting .504.
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