On the brink of its first state softball trip in school history, West Liberty is one hungry community.
“They’re really thirsting for a great experience,” Comets Coach Chad Libby said. “Our football team made it to the UNI-Dome (last fall), and it gave coaches in the other sports reason to believe.
“Ideally, (Monday) could be something really special.”
One of four area teams seeking their first voyage to Fort Dodge, the fourth-ranked Comets (27-5) host No. 8 Anamosa (31-4) in a Class 3A regional final. First pitch is 7 p.m.
The state brackets will be assembled Monday in 3A, 2A and 1A. The Anamosa-West Liberty encounter is one of eight games involving Gazette-area teams.
Elsewhere in 3A, No. 13 Mount Vernon (26-11) is at No. 11 Solon (23-15), and No. 10 Williamsburg (31-11) meets No. 2 Louisa-Muscatine (32-4) at Letts.
In 2A, top-ranked North Linn (38-4) hosts Saint Ansgar (25-7), No. 3 Jesup (30-9) entertains No. 5 East Marshall (30-4), and No. 10 Dyersville Beckman (28-13) is at No. 2 Durant (29-6).
And in 1A, No. 2 Lisbon (31-6) hosts No. 11 Belle Plaine (24-8) while Starmont (17-21) travels to No. 3 Clarksville (30-1).
North Linn, Beckman and Starmont join West Liberty as teams seeking their first state berths.
The Comets and Anamosa played twice earlier this season, splitting their first two games.
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“Both games, we kind of punted the ball around,” Libby said. “The last time we played (a 5-2 Anamosa win), both teams used their No. 2 pitchers, so I think this will be a significantly different game.”
It’s also the rubber match for Mount Vernon and Solon, who split a Wamac Conference doubleheader June 4.
“We’re both very solid teams,” Mustangs Coach Robin Brand said. “Who’s going to show up?”
Solon has reached the state tournament six times in the 2010s, Mount Vernon four. Brand said she doesn’t measure her program against the one that resides 10 miles to the south.
“No, it’s always about you against yourself, whether you’re getting better every day,” she said.
Last year, Lisbon played the upstart, underdog card to perfection, knocking off top-ranked Lansing Kee in the regional finals. Now, the Lions are favored to return to state, and advance deep.
“Our defense has been a constant. It’s probably the best defense we’ve played in years,” Lisbon Coach Bob Bunting said. “Last year’s state-tournament experience really helped. We only had one position (shortstop) to fill, and (eighth-grader) Peyton Robinson has done a heck of a job doing it.”
Monday's area softball regional finals
Region 3: No. 10 Williamsburg (31-11) at No. 2 Louisa-Muscatine (32-4)
Last year’s 2A state champion, Louisa-Muscatine is up a class this season, and is a contender in its new home. The Falcons face a Williamsburg outfit that captured the Wamac Conference West Division championship and is seeking its first state bid since 2002. Junior Jill Holub is hitting .393 with 11 home runs and 51 RBIs for the Raiders, and eighth-grader Peyton Driscoll has emerged as the pitching ace, sporting a 17-5 record with a 2.05 ERA and 142 strikeouts. Louisa-Muscatine counters with junior Hailey Sanders (17-0, 0.45 ERA, 232 K’s). Sanders also bats .456 with 13 doubles.
Region 5: No. 13 Mount Vernon (26-11) at No. 11 Solon (23-15)
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These archrivals have combined for 10 state appearances this decade (Solon six, Mount Vernon four). They split a doubleheader June 4 at Solon, with the Spartans claiming a wild 13-10 opener, then the Mustangs rolling, 12-2, in the nightcap. Kayla West (15-5) pitched a two-hitter as Solon blanked Benton Community, 5-0, in the regional semifinals. Mount Vernon tallied in the sixth inning to nudge West Marshall, 3-2. Solon’s Skylar Stookey is second in 3A with 14 home runs, and leads the Spartans with 42 RBIs. Sammy Moss (.444) paces the Mount Vernon attack; she has scored 37 runs and driven in 39.
Region 6: No. 8 Anamosa (31-4) at No. 4 West Liberty (27-5)
The two divisional champions of the River Valley Conferencen collide for a rubber match; the teams split their two regular-season encounters. West Liberty pursues its first state-tournament appearance, while Anamosa hasn’t been to Fort Dodge since a runner-up finish in 1996. A transfer from Louisa-Muscatine, senior Isabelle True has enhanced the West Liberty pitching staff, racking up a 15-1 record and 160 strikeouts and compiling a 1.06 ERA. Junior Haylee Lehman is hitting a robust .604. Anamosa has undergone an annual coaching turnover in recent years, but Brad Holub has provided stability, turning a 13-17 team into 31-4 with virtually the same roster. The arrival of eighth-grader Emily Watters (.472, 39 runs) hasn’t hurt, either.
Region 1: No. 5 East Marshall (30-4) at No. 3 Jesup (30-9)
One of the most prolific offensive teams in the state in any class, Jesup was handcuffed by South Hamilton in the regional semifinals until striking for a seventh-inning run to advance. Still, the J-Hawks are averaging 10.1 runs per game and are hitting .386 as a club. Junior Zoe Miller leads the way at .459, with 60 runs and 36 RBIs. A perennially strong team, East Marshall marches into Monday with a 17-game winning streak behind seniors Madison Farrington (.460, 11 home runs, 59 RBIs) and Maria Rasmussen (.518, 48 runs, 43 RBIs).
Region 6: No. 10 Dyersville Beckman (28-13) at No. 2 Durant (29-6)
Eight months after leading Beckman to the U.S. Cellular Center for state volleyball, seniors Sydney Steffen and Heather Boeckenstedt seek to push the Blazers to Fort Dodge for the first time. Steffen (22-12) has pitched more than 1,000 innings in her career, and Boeckenstedt — a Gazette Female Athlete of the Year finalist — is hitting .523 with 61 runs scored and 41 stolen bases. Durant will be a supreme challenge, though. The Wildcats have won 14 straight games, with 11 shutouts in that run. Senior Kamryn Meyer (18-4) owns a 0.53 ERA, while senior Ruby Kappeler (.488) has 17 doubles and 34 stolen bases.
Region 7: Saint Ansgar (25-7) at No. 1 North Linn (38-4)
After losing a nine-inning regional-final heartbreaker to eventual state runner-up Iowa City Regina last season, North Linn wants to break through and advance to state for the first time. The Lynx have been dominant, outscoring their foes by a 396-57 margin. Hannah Bridgewater and Kaitlyn Sommerfelt key the top of the lineup (they have combined for 111 runs this season), and the Flanagan twins and Jill Smith are the big run producers. Abby Flanagan is 24-2 in the circle, with a 258-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ledger and a 0.48 ERA. Saint Ansgar is riding an 11-game win streak (scoring 116 runs in that span) and outscored its first two regional foes by a combined 18-0.
Region 6: No. 11 Belle Plaine (24-8) at No. 2 Lisbon (31-6)
Thanks to a defense that Bob Bunting has called one of the best he has ever had, plus an elite pitcher in Skylar Sadler (21-2, 192 Ks), Lisbon is allowing just 1.62 runs per game. That’s a good recipe for success, and the Lions are favored to return to state with hopes of bettering their third-place finish of last year. The Lions have won 14 of their last 15 games, but face a Belle Plaine unit that is hot in its own right with 18 victories in its last 20. Lilly Parrott is hitting .505 for the Plainsmen with 34 runs and 47 RBIs. Lisbon counters with sophomore Stacia Hall (.490) and eighth-grader Peyton Robinson (.472). Bunting is 1,193-631 in 50 seasons, all at Lisbon.
Region 7: Starmont (17-21) at No. 3 Clarksville (30-1)
Starmont has pulled off back-to-back upsets over Janesville and Edgewood-Colesburg to reach this point and zero in on its first state tournament in school history. But Clarksville is big step up in competition. Junior Kori Wedeking is a lockdown pitcher; she owns a 25-1 record and a 0.33 ERA, with 233 strikeouts in 150 innings. Many of Starmont’s key pieces were part of a volleyball team that reached state competition three straight years, including pitcher Hayley Goedken (10-7, 2.21 ERA), Regan Janssen and Madilyn Vaske.
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