CEDAR RAPIDS — Samantha Bratland was resting and refueling between games.
She said she was not expected to be the starting pitcher after throwing six innings against Central, but that changed when Luther Coach Renae Hartl told her to head to the bullpen. The junior right-hander was all for it.
Bratland threw a complete-game shutout, helping the third-seeded Norse to a 4-0 victory over top-seeded Coe in the the Iowa Conference softball tournament final Saturday at Clark Field. Luther became the second team to win three straight IIAC softball tournament titles, joining Wartburg (2006-08).
The Norse have won three of the last five conference tournaments, but this is the first time they were a No. 3 seed since their title in 2013.
“This year was a little more of a struggle throughout the conference,” Bratland said. “We needed that I think.
“This year, I really feel we earned it and pushed through everything. Everyone found their hearts today and really pushed.”
Bratland (21-4) produced consecutive gems, limiting the second-seeded Dutch to one run on five hits in the semifinals. Hartl debated her options and was comfortable keeping Bratland in the circle against the Kohawks.
“She was pitching well,” Hartl said. “She was pitching great. It’s 80 degrees. Let’s just stay with her and let’s keep going.”
Bratland responded and scattered five hits, allowing just one Coe runner to reach third base.
“I was really mixing up my spots and trusting my teammates behind me,” Bratland said. “They played great defense. Not everything was working so it was a little frustrating, but I knew even if stuff wasn’t working I had my teammates behind me to make the plays they did.”
The Norse put together a three-run second off starter Bailey Smith. Natalie Stockman smacked a two-run single, scoring Addy Pender and Paige Timmerman. Anna Strien, who went 2-for-3, added an RBI single to drive in Megan Bonnett.
Timmerman drove in Pender in the sixth to cap the scoring. Luther tallied six of its seven hits in those two frames.
“Hitting is contagious in softball and baseball,” Strien said. “It definitely showed. You want to be the person on deck after your teammate gets a good hit to follow that up.”
Strien was also a key component in the semifinal victory, smacking a three-run home run. The shot came two innings after Ashley Burrows’ grand slam in a 9-1 victory over Central. The outburst seemed to ignited Luther and propel it into the championship.
“We definitely needed our leaders on the team to just get those clutch hits for us and get everyone going and excited,” Bratland said. “That was huge.”
Hartl said this team reminds her of the 2013 championship team. The players have a similar personality, love for the game, work ethic and the ability to find ways to win games. It could serve them well in regional play, earning an automatic berth.
“This team has been down and they know how to get back up,” Hartl said. “I think they learned a lot about each other and who they and we want to be. They have a fighting personality more than teams in the past.”
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Coe (26-12) dropped Nebraska Wesleyan in the semifinals. The Kohawks, the regular-season conference champions, will await their fate with at-large selections coming Monday.
“I thought that we did everything that we could,” Coe Coach Diane Meyer said about the season’s resume. “Game two just wasn’t our game. Hats off to Luther for coming in here and having a really good tournament. Our kids battled. It just wasn’t our day.”
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