TROY MILLS — A bit of a gasp and then one big exhale.
North Linn proved the third time is a charm when it comes to qualifying for the state softball tournament.
Abby Flanagan notched her 15th strikeout to quash Saint Ansgar’s brief seventh-inning rally and powered top-ranked North Linn to a 5-3 victory in the Class 2A Region 7 final Monday night at home. The Lynx earned their first state softball berth and will face Wapello (17-12) in the quarterfinals next Monday in Fort Dodge, starting at 3 p.m.
“It’s truly exciting,” Flanagan said. “We’ve never been there before. We’ve been working hard all season, and past seasons, for this. It feels really good.”
North Linn (39-4) made its third straight regional final, losing to Durant in 2017 and dropping a nine-inning contest to eventual state champion Iowa City Regina last season. The Lynx have had this moment in their sights.
“Every single person has put a lot of work in throughout the winter,” said Grace Flanagan, Abby’s twin sister and battery mate, who led North Linn with three hits and two RBIs. “Everybody has been wanting to get over this bump and we all just really wanted it.”
Abby (25-2) rolled in the circle, allowing just one runner to reach on an error through the first six innings. Sam Hemann drew a leadoff walk and Lily Walk tallied the first hit with a single to center in the seventh for the Saints (25-8). Jadyn Anderson smacked a three-run home run over the left-field fence to tighten the game.
Grace helped calm things, catching a pop-up behind the plate for the first out and then Abby fanned the last two for the win.
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“I had all the confidence in the world in her,” North Linn Coach Marv Porter said. “She’s been in that situation before and all she has to do is step back and take a breath. She’s a winner and so is her sister. … All of them are.”
Grace helped provide run support. Abby reached on a two-out error in the first and Grace singled to drive in courtesy runner Evalyn Robins for a 1-0 lead. Her solo home run capped North Linn’s scoring and made it 5-0 in the fifth.
“That was exciting,” Grace said about the first RBI. “It felt good to get the momentum going there.”
The Lynx added two in the second, capitalizing on an error and a Hannah Bridgewater RBI groundout. Natalie Gallery had an RBI single in the third to score Grace.
Jill Smith had two hits and Bridgewater had two hits and an RBI for the Lynx, who have outscored opponents 401-60 this season.
The feat was big and the future is bright.
“This means a lot to this program,” Porter said. “We have five exceptional juniors and they’ll be around another year.”
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