The longer the season has progressed, the more attractive this matchup has become.
Cedar Rapids Xavier (15-9) visits Marion (15-8) in a Class 4A regional-quarterfinal softball game Thursday at the Les Hipple Sports Complex. First pitch is 7 p.m.
You can argue with merit that it’s the best game on the statewide slate as 4A and 5A regionals kick off.
“The (Iowa Girls High School Athletic) Union said they’d be doing a little more regionalizing because of COVID, so that’s probably the reason for the matchup,” Marion Coach Scott Fruehling said. “We had a regular-season game scheduled (with Xavier) for Tuesday, but as soon as the pairings came out, we agreed to drop it.
“West Delaware is the best team in the region. But I don’t think Xavier and us are too far behind.”
Ranked No. 2, West Delaware awaits the Xavier-Marion winner Saturday at Manchester. Regardless of outcome Thursday, the Hawks will be facing a surging squad.
Both the Indians and the Saints have won 11 of their last 13 games.
“We’ve started to really get better as a group at the plate,” Fruehling said. “Our batting average is about 50 points higher than last year. We strike out less.”
Freshman catcher Peyton Johnson “has been on fire lately” and leads the Indians at .419. Cloee Kraft is hitting .405 with four home runs and 26 RBIs.
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For Xavier, Kya Loffswold has been a steady presence at the top of the order, batting .437, drawing 20 walks and scoring 31 times. Freshman Duanna Coyle owns a team-best .468 average with 25 RBIs.
“Xavier is going to swing the bats, up and down the lineup,” Fruehling said. “Their pitchers are going to try to keep us off balance. I have a lot of respect for (Coach) Nikki (Gahring).”
A key to the game is the availability of Marion pitcher Megan Kessens (9-3, 0.98 ERA) who has been out for a week, according to Fruehling, with a strained Achilles.
“We hope to have her back Thursday,” Fruehling said. “She’s a difference-maker.”
Two Metro/Iowa City 5A teams open the postseason Thursday. Iowa City West (7-14) hosts Waterloo West (2-16), and Cedar Rapids Washington (0-15) visits Dubuque Senior (3-14).
Thursday’s Class 5A regional quarterfinals
(7 p.m. unless noted)
Council Bluffs Thomas Jefferson (2-19) at Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln (6-13)
Cedar Rapids Washington (0-15) at Dubuque Senior (3-14), 5 p.m.
Waterloo West (2-16) at Iowa City West (7-14)
Thursday’s Class 4A regional quarterfinals
(7 p.m. unless noted)
Waterloo East (7-13) at Center Point-Urbana (5-18)
Mason City (8-12) at Waverly-Shell Rock (5-10)
Cedar Rapids Xavier (15-9) at Marion (15-8)
Grinnell (10-10) at Washington (8-17)
Clinton (4-14) at Dubuque Wahlert (10-12), 6 p.m.
Maquoketa (4-16) at DeWitt Central (12-13)
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