FORT DODGE — As Durant slugger Cathy Ralfs stepped to the plate with a runner on third in the bottom of the sixth inning, Sarah Lehman’s mind drifted to June 26.
That day, Regina led 1-0 in the sixth. Ralfs changed that with one powerful swing off Lehman: 2-1 Durant, the first of two regular-season wins over Regina.
Nursing a 2-0 lead Thursday at Rogers Sports Complex, Lehman refocused and got Ralfs to pop up to shallow left. The second-ranked Wildcats (32-8) scored only on a fielder’s choice grounder and No. 9 Regina (29-11) advanced to Friday’s Class 2A title game with a 2-1 victory in an all-River Valley Conference semifinal.
“I felt like I could do it,” Lehman said. “I was like, ‘I can’t give her anything good.’”
Lehman allowed five hits, one walk and struck out eight to help put the Regals in the state championship for the third straight year. Champions in 2015 and runners-up in 2016, Regina will play No. 6 Eddyville EBF (31-8) at 4:55 p.m.
Aubrey Werthmann was the third Durant leadoff hitter to reach, but the only one to score. Ralfs led off the fourth with a double but was stranded there. Ruby Kapppeler reached on an infield single in the first, then got caught at home on a failed squeeze play.
“(Lehman) is a very determined young lady right now and everyone knows she’s determined,” Regina Coach Jon Prottsman said. “That helps everybody else.”
The Regals scratched across just enough against Durant ace Kamryn Meyer (0.96 ERA).
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Meyer hit two batters in the first and Emily Bonnett scored on a two-out error. In the sixth, Taylor O’Connor singled home Jess Hunter from second with a drive to center.
It proved to be an important insurance run from a player who hadn’t faced Meyer before. O’Connor was concussed in a game just prior to the regular-season doubleheader against Durant, but gained confidence after seeing the ball well in her first at-bat Thursday – a bunt groundout.
“I was a little nervous because my team struck out (11 times in 5 innings in an 8-1 regular-season loss),” O’Connor said.
“Julie Nelson, one of our assistant coaches, said to me, ‘I know you can do this. You’ve hit so well in the cage. I’ve seen you improve this season.’”
It was only Regina’s second hit of the game, but it was enough. Hunter’s twisting catch in center for the second-to-last out kept the tying run off the basepaths, then Lehman struck out Kappeler to end it.
“It’s fun to be the underdog,” Lehman said. “I guess they had more pressure on them. We were ready to get after it.”
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