FORT DODGE, Iowa – IKM-Manning created opportunities galore in its first state semifinal softball appearance.
Its inability to capitalize on most of those chances triggered the tears flowing from many of its players’ faces at game’s end.
The 12th-rated Wolves collected one hit in each inning and had their leadoff batter aboard in five of the seven frames, yet dropped a 6-2 Class 2-A semifinal to No. 14 Cascade on Thursday at the Rogers Sports Complex.
“It hurts that we got this far, and I wish we could have gotten farther,’’ a red-eyed IKM-Manning senior Miranda Hansen said. “We were making history for our school. We were the first to get this far.’’
IKM-Manning will play top-rated Fort Dodge St. Edmond (29-8) for third place at 9:30 a.m. on Friday. Cascade (24-10), the fifth-place finisher in the River Valley Conference, will meet No. 10 Iowa City Regina (25-14) at 10 a.m. Friday for the 2-A title.
“This is the cream of the crop,’’ IKM-Manning coach Joy Gross said. “If you get beat here, there’s no shame in that. We just didn’t get the one hit to give us a big inning.’’
Abbey Youngren got the Wolves started quickly with a two-run, first-inning homer, her 10th of the season. But the Western Iowa Conference runners-up never recovered from a shaky bottom of the first.
Lynsey Dolphin and Chloe Rea opened the game with singles, and the Cougars loaded the bases with no outs after the Wolves mishandled Lexi Weber’s bunt attempt for an error.
IKM-Manning starter Peyton Gross nearly got out of trouble, inducing a popout and then striking out Riley Takes. But Lisa Tucker dropped a single in front of a diving Carley McConnell in center, and all three runners scored. Tucker took second on the throw and third on a throwing error, and Bailey Clemens drove her home with a single for a 4-2 lead. All four runs were unearned.
Joy Gross wasn’t particularly alarmed at the time.
“I’m just hoping that it’s a slugfest,’’ she said. “I’m hoping it’s a high-scoring game. I wasn’t really worried that we gave up four runs. I just thought, ‘OK, they got theirs. We’ll settle in.’’’
Weber’s two-run homer in the second – Cascade’s fourth of the state tournament -- staked the Cougars to a 6-2 lead. IKM-Manning consistently threatened the rest of the way, but couldn’t push any more across. That was painful for the Wolves, facing a control pitcher in Dolphin (12-4) who struck out only one batter.
“She kind of threw us off,’’ Hansen said. “She was slower than what we had the other night.’’
Cascade coach Ken Weber said a priority for his team was to take away IKM-Manning’s bunt offense.
“I was more worried about the small ball with them, because that’s how they were playing the last couple games,’’ he said. “The scouting I got on them was that they liked to bunt a lot. So right away, I think we took a lot of that away from them, because we moved our girls way up.’’
The softball gods weren’t necessarily on IKM-Manning’s side. At least five outs were recorded by Cascade on line drives at someone.
“We hit some line shots, and they came up with everything that we hit in the air,’’ Joy Gross said. “We needed to hit a few more ground balls.’’
The glass-half-full IKM-Manning coach was looking forward to one final game with her team.
“We’ve got an opportunity to finish our season with a win,’’ she said. “I’m just proud of the effort these kids have given every night out.’’
IKM-Manning (26-9) ...................... 200 000 0 – 2 7 3
Cascade (24-10) ............................ 420 000 x – 6 8 1
W: Lynsey Dolphin (12-4). L: Peyton Gross (24-9). 2B: C, Chloe Rea. HR: I, Abbey Youngren (10); C, Lexi Weber (4).