CEDAR RAPIDS — A milestone victory for a coach would surely pale in comparison to one more for the team.
Linn-Mar softball coach John Begley earned career win No. 700 in spectacular fashion Saturday night as his Lions upset second-ranked Cedar Rapids Kennedy, 4-3 in 10 innings, in a Class 5A regional semifinal at Kennedy High School.
“They didn’t want to quit, they didn’t want to be done,” Begley said. “We just came up with big hit after big hit. Whether it was pitching or defense, we came up with big plays. You could not have played any better.”
Linn-Mar (23-19) will visit Iowa City High (23-18) in a regional final on Tuesday at 7. Win there, and No. 701 for Begley will deliver the Lions to the state tournament for the first time since 2015.
“We’ve just got to keep up what we’ve been doing,” senior Ally Johnson said. “We’ve got to believe in ourselves. It all comes down to us, how we play.”
Johnson — a UNI signee — drove in the eventual game-winning run with a one-out single in the top of the 10th inning that scored senior Ariana Rolle from second base, who doubled one batter earlier.
“I was just looking for my pitch,” Johnson said. “I’ve been struggling at the plate tonight, but I just had to believe in myself and go get this one. So I looked for my pitch and I got it.”
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With the Lions clinging to that 4-3 lead in the bottom half of the inning, Kennedy loaded the bases with an Abby Spore double sandwiched between a pair of intentional walks.
With no outs and Kennedy on the verge of either tying or winning the game, Johnson snared a line drive at second base off the bat of Kennedy freshman Addie Parker and threw to first for a double play. Suddenly, Linn-Mar was an out away from the upset.
“Ally Johnson is the best second baseman that I’ve ever had,” Begley said. “That kid has the heart of a lion.”
With runners at second and third, Linn-Mar senior pitcher Katie Smith induced a ground ball back to the circle for the final out. For the first time in her softball career, Smith (15-16) pitched 10 innings in one game. She yielded 12 hits and struck out just one batter while issuing seven walks, including six intentional passes.
“We knew we had to stay loud,” Smith said. “We believed in ourselves and we had timely hits and we had our awesome defense that came through for us.”
Linn-Mar senior Elly Schuemann returned to the lineup and was an offensive force that continually applied pressure to the Cougars. She singled in runs in both the first and third innings off Nebraska pitching commit Kaylin Kinney, then opened the sixth inning with a double that eventually scored courtesy runner Chloe Skidmore with a vital insurance run for a 3-1 lead.
Schuemann missed the regional quarterfinal victory over Cedar Rapids Washington on Thursday due to the death of her grandfather, Urban Becker.
“I was definitely anxious,” Schuemann said. “I know he would be there for me no matter what. … I definitely knew he would be looking down on me, believing in me.”
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Linn-Mar had a pair of chances to win the game before extra innings. Kennedy cut a 3-1 deficit in half with a sacrifice fly by freshman Jayme Scheck that scored Kinney in the bottom of the sixth inning. With the Cougars down to their last out in the bottom of the seventh, Spore singled home senior Ashley Winterowd with the tying run.
On the mound, Scheck lost for just the third time this season (16-3). She pitched 5 2/3 innings of relief and allowed five hits, two runs and struck out six for Kennedy, which ends its season at 33-6.
All six Kennedy losses this season were by one run.
“I was really proud of the kids,” Kennedy Coach Maddison LeClere said. “They worked hard every day in practice. We didn’t talk about what happened last year (first state tournament berth since 1999) and we had a great season. We had a lot of good wins.”
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