TROY MILLS — The defending champions are back to defend.
Paisley Gardner lofted a two-out, two-run double into the left-field corner in the top of the ninth inning, and 10th-ranked Iowa City Regina edged No. 9 North Linn, 2-0, in a Class 2A softball regional final Monday night at North Linn High School.
“I’m 28 (years old), but I feel really old right now,” first-year Regina coach Jake Koolbeck said. “I’m just happy I get two more weeks with these girls.”
Regina (23-15) returns to Fort Dodge for the eighth time. The Regals will face No. 5 Alta-Aurelia (22-3) at 5:30 p.m. next Monday at the Rogers Sports Complex.
Gardner’s double broke up a pitchers’ duel between Regina’s Katie Bracken and North Linn’s Abby Flanagan, neither of which allowed a hit through regulation.
The Regals’ winning rally started with one out. Jess Hunter walked, then stole second base. With two outs, Bracken walked, bringing up Gardner, who had struck out in both of her previous two plate appearances.
“I was very nervous,” Gardner said. “I had been struggling, but Coach told me to move back and get my feet better placed. When I hit it, I knew it went a long ways.”
The ball landed about 5 feet in front of the fence, just out of the grasp of left-fielder Jill Smith, barely fair. Two runs scored, and that was enough for Bracken (15-13), who retired the Lynx (38-5) in order in the bottom of the ninth.
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“I watched the ball as I was running toward second, and I thought it was going to go foul,” Gardner said. “I can’t believe it stayed fair.”
North Linn had a chance to win it in the bottom of the eighth, loading the bases with one out on singles by Natalie Gallery and pinch-hitter Jenna Lemley — North Linn’s only two hits of the game — and an intentional walk to Smith.
Olivia Rauch bounced back to the circle, and Bracken’s throw to the plate beat Gallery by a whisker. Maddie Woods flew out to left to end the threat.
Bracken struck out seven and walked one.
“I just wanted to stay focused on each pitch,” Bracken said.
Flanagan (24-3) finished with a three-hitter, fanning 13 and walking two. She retired the first 16 batters she faced, 22 of the first 23.
The Lynx lost for the first time in 18 games. Their previous defeat was June 15.
“We had a hell of a season. The kids can’t hang their heads,” North Linn Coach Marv Porter said. “Next year, we’ve got to play better (regular-season) competition so we’re more prepared for a game like this.”
IOWA CITY REGINA 2, NORTH LINN 0 (9 innings)
Class 2A Regional Final, at Troy Mills
Iowa City Regina 000 000 002 — 2 3 1
North Linn 000 000 000 — 0 2 1
Katie Bracken and Maeve Dunne. Abby Flanagan and Grace Flanagan. W — Bracken (15-13). L — Flanagan (24-3).
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