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Mt. Pleasant News   Wash Journal
Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 16, 2017

Trojans return to state tourney

Fairfield defeats Des Moines Hoover, advances to state three years in a row
By Andy Hallman, Ledger news editor | Jul 12, 2017
Source: PHOTO COURTESY OF HEIDI BOWMAN The Trojan softball team is all smiles as it holds up its 2017 softball state qualifier banner after Tuesday’s 4-2 win over Des Moines Hoover.

"We were saved by Grace.”

That was Fairfield softball coach Bob Bradfield’s summary of the Trojans’ 4-2 victory Tuesday night over Des Moines Hoover, sending his team to the state tournament for the third straight year. The “Grace” that saved the Trojans was freshman Grace Stever, whose go-ahead RBI single in the sixth surely felt heaven-sent.

Stever has been a courtesy runner for catcher Sara Trent all season, but her time at the plate and in the field has been limited. Before Tuesday’s game, she had recorded five varsity at-bats. With the score tied at 2-2 in the bottom of the sixth, bases loaded, two outs, Bradfield asked her to take at-bat No. 6.

 

Hero off the bench

Starting pitcher Haley Beard had put every ounce of effort she had into holding the opposition to two runs through sixth innings. The effort had taken its toll, particularly in the 93-degree heat.

“I was getting very hot by the sixth inning,” Beard said.

Several batters before her spot was due, Beard’s step-father and assistant coach Brian Witzenburg suggested to Bradfield that Stever pinch-hit for Beard, so she could save her energy for the seventh inning. The top of Hoover’s order was due up, including the Blackford sisters, Hannah and Madisen, both of whom were batting over .500 on the year.

Bradfield said he almost changed his mind to bat Stever when a walk to Allison Rebling loaded the bases. He wondered if it was too much pressure to put on a freshman, but Witzenburg urged him to stick with the youngster.

“I’ve coached Grace 40 games at JV. I had all the confidence in her to hit,” Witzenburg said. “We knew it was best for Haley to take a breather so she could shut them down in the seventh.”

Stever stepped into the box and took the first two pitches for strikes. The third pitch missed the plate by an eyelash, and the fourth pitch sailed wide to make the count 2-2. Stever fouled off the fifth pitch.

“I took a sigh of relief when she fouled off that pitch,” Witzenburg said. “I said to myself, ‘she’s on it now.’”

The next pitch was a change-up, which Stever recognized right away. She waited for it to enter the zone, and then BANG, rifled it up the middle of the diamond, scoring Kaylee Watson from third and Kenady Waugh from second.

“I was so nervous before the at-bat,” Stever said. “I heard Coach Bradfield joke that he was going to chew out [Witzenburg] after I got down 0-2 in the count.”

 

‘The play of the game’

The Trojans took a 4-2 lead into the top of the seventh. More drama was yet to come.

Beard struck out the first batter of the inning. The second hitter smacked a soft linedrive ticketed for the grass in left field.

“I thought for sure the ball was going to drop,” said Bradfield.

It would have, if not for a sensational play by freshman left fielder Lily Hoskins. Hoskins ran at full speed, dove and snared the ball just before it touched the ground. When the umpire held his fist in the air signaling an out, the crowd went wild. Shorstop Waugh and center fielder Watson patted Hoskins on the back.

“I knew I couldn’t let it drop,” Hoskins said. “I didn’t care if the ball got past me. I knew that second out was such a big out for my team.”

“Lily’s catch was the play of the game,” Bradfield said. “How she got to it and held on, I don’t know, but I’m glad she did. Two freshmen, Lily and Grace, came through for us in a big way tonight.”

 

Hoover takes the lead

Fairfield could have gone into the bottom of the sixth feeling deflated. Hoover had taken the lead 2-1 in the top of the inning when Tayler Floyd ripped a double to left center, scoring Katie Burns from third. But the Trojans were not about to quit.

Shay Drish led off the bottom of the inning by scalding a ball up the middle, which the pitcher knocked down but couldn’t corral in time to nab Drish at first. Ashtyn Drish bunted her sister over to second. Watson hit a grounder to short, which the fielder booted, allowing Watson to reach and put runners on first and second with only one out.

Waugh came to bat and lined a single to left. The left fielder threw home but it was far too late to stop Shay from crossing the plate.

“I had two strikes on me, so I had to swing at anything close,” Waugh said. “I got a change-up and stayed back on it.”

Waugh also caught a pop-up for the final out of the game.

“When the ball went up in the air, I was feeling pure excitement because I knew it was over,” she said.

 

State softball

The Trojans’ first game at the state softball tournament in Fort Dodge is at 5 p.m. Tuesday against Charles City. They will play on the Buena Vista University diamond. Fairfield is the No. 2 seed.

 

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