Prep Softball

Iowa high school summer sports: Not totally normal, but there's normalcy

A softball season that just got started is rapidly drawing to a close

A fan at the Waterloo East-Cedar Rapids Prairie prep softball doubleheader Monday night at Prairie got a good spot for s
A fan at the Waterloo East-Cedar Rapids Prairie prep softball doubleheader Monday night at Prairie got a good spot for social distancing and watching the games. (Mike Hlas/The Gazette)
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The "Scores & More" section of Monday’s Gazette sports section said five high school softball doubleheaders were being played in Cedar Rapids-Marion that night, so my mission was clear:

Go to all of them.

Why? Because it was live organized team sports with spectators permitted in my backyard, something rarer in America the last few months than good, fresh programming on network television.

I mean, I found myself watching “The Match Game” the other night. If that wasn’t a cry for help, or at least a reason to get out of the house for an evening, there is no such thing.

The five events, alas, turned out to be three. The scheduled Cedar Falls-Cedar Rapids Washington games at Franklin Field were canceled. Cedar Falls’ baseball and softball teams were put on a two-week pause late last month because a person on each varsity team tested positive for COVID-19. The teams have completed their quarantines and plan to resume play next week.

Monday’s scheduled Waterloo West-Cedar Rapids Jefferson games were postponed for precautionary reasons. As of Tuesday afternoon, the Mississippi Valley Conference’s website said the games were rescheduled for Thursday.

As it turned out, getting from Kennedy High to Prairie High to Marion High and seeing an inning or more at each school was enough for my time frame. It covered all four of Cedar Rapids’ quadrants and Marion.

Let’s start with good news. There’s no need for cranky sports writer scold here. Social distancing was observed by most fans at all three schools. Crowds weren’t huge on a 90-degree night, but every one of the six teams involved had fans, most in lawn chairs behind outfield or foul line fences.

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At Cedar Rapids Kennedy, Izzy Wright — great name — socked a three-run homer in the first inning as the Cougars took a 6-0 first-inning lead. It’s a dynamo of a team, as it displayed in its 12-0, 13-1 sweep of Linn-Mar.

It was Seniors Night at Kennedy, though it seems like the season had barely started. Which it sort of has, since it’s less than a month old. I was told there was cake and ice cream for the Cougars players afterward. If so, it was a winning night all around.

I got to Cedar Rapids Prairie with the Hawks trailing Waterloo East, 2-0, in the top of the fourth inning of Game 1. With the constant I-380 traffic as the background, Prairie’s bats started making their own noise in the bottom of the inning.

Rylee Newhard hit a deep two-run double to send the game to the fifth frame with a tie score. I took off, and Prairie’s offense really took off after I departed. The Hawks scored seven runs in their half of the fifth on the way to a 12-2 win, and won the second game, 10-3.

On to Marion. The Indians were up 6-4 on Center Point-Urbana in the top of the fifth inning of their first game. Soon after I arrived, CPU center fielder Claire Neighbor make a terrific diving catch. It is something, I later learned, is common for her.

CPU scored twice in the seventh to tie the game at 6. It went to an eighth inning, which ended with Cloee Kraft’s sacrifice fly that gave Marion the 7-6 win.

Marion fell behind 7-0 in the second game, but battled back for a 14-12 victory. It wasn’t the prettiest game, but it had heart.

“Oh my gosh. That could have been the longest game ever,” Marion Coach Scott Fruehling exaggerated Tuesday morning. But the 6 p.m. doubleheader didn’t finish until, he said, between 10:45 and 11. And, his team faced another pair of games at Marion Tuesday night, against Vinton-Shellsburg.

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So, this was all good to see. Players playing, coaches coaching, fans rooting. The emotional aspect of something in which school communities could gather again has to have done something positive, right?

“It’s good to be doing something,” said a CPU player’s parent at the Marion game.

Fruehling may have captured things as well as you can about this unusual season.

“I don’t think it feels totally normal, though there’s a sense of normalcy,” he said.

“There’s still a little bit of an off feeling. It’s been cramped, rushed. It feels like there’s not enough time to get what you want. But in the big picture, I’m glad we’re playing.”

Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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