The Lady Falcons (23-4) have earned the respect of opposing coaches and teams throughout the year with a combination of stellar bats from the number 1 to the number 9 hitters, feared pitching and solid defense highlighted on the final state rankings in Class 1A by the IHSGAU with a number 2 ranking.
To paint a proper picture of the girls play throughout 2021 one can go back to May of this year. Starting the year 3-4, the girls are now currently riding a 20-game winning streak outscoring opponents 177 to 17. Going head-to-head with numerous ranked teams throughout the year the Lady Falcons had 14 wins over ranked opponents. Oh and those early 4 losses? All 4 of those teams also punched their own tickets to Fort Dodge with another Pride of Iowa Conference team joining Wayne in 1A along with 2 in 3A and 1 in 4A.
During the regular season the Lady Falcons earned their 6th Pride of Iowa Conference Championship and only their 3rd outright championship since the inception of the conference in 1989. How tough was the POI Conference this year? Of the 10 conference teams, 4 finished the regular season ranked in the top 10 in the state, with Wayne and 3 additional POI teams fighting for a Regional Championship.
On July 12 the #2 Lady Falcons hosted the #8 ranked Lenox Tigers to determine who would take the Region 3 championship and head to Fort Dodge to battle for the Class 1A State Championship. The Lenox Tigers brought a 28-7 record and the states’ strikeout leader to Carpenter Field hoping to put an end to the Lady Falcons successful season.
The Lady Falcons proved they were ready when they struck 1st in the bottom of the 1st inning with a Camryn Jacobsen single scoring Jaide Harvey to get Wayne on the board. Abigayle Henderson followed with a single up the middle scoring both Jacobsen and Emily Jones to take an early 3 – 0 lead.
After 3 strikeouts by Berndt to start the 2nd inning, Wayne added to their score on a single by Jones, which scored Berndt from 2nd to bring the score to 4 – 0.
In the top of the 5th, Lenox connected for a solo homerun for the Tigers 1st score of the game and cut the Lady Falcons lead to 4 – 1.
As stated earlier, the Lenox Tigers came into the showdown with one of the state’s premier pitchers stepping into the pitcher’s circle. With that in mind, one would expect a pitcher’s duel with Berndt, arguably the state’s top pitcher no matter the class size. The Lady Falcons lineup, however, felt differently and with the score already 4 – 1 the girls turned it up a notch.
Following a Berndt bunt single and a Mya Willey walk; Jones crushed a deep ball over the left/center field fence for a 3-run homerun. Wayne didn’t stop there and after a Jacobsen line drive single, Henderson launched a homerun of her own in the same vicinity as Jones’ for 2 more Lady Falcon RBI’s to bring the score to 9 – 1.
The Lady Falcons finished the regional final just as it had started; with Berndt striking out the opposition that stepped into the batters box.
Final score: Wayne Lady Falcons 9; Lenox Tigers 1
The excitement of that moment at Carpenter’s Field cannot be fully explained but had to be witnessed to appreciate; the immediate reactions, screams, smiles, hugs and tears from players, coaches, family and friends all sharing in the girls’ success.
“Everything just felt good, it just felt right. The girls were excited and focused all at the same time,” Head Coach Heather Fortune explained. “You could just feel it in the air. Emotional. Exciting. I couldn’t let myself leave the dugout at all and just watched the girls celebrate together. It just doesn’t get old.”
Assistant Coach Dally Lain added, “the previous two games were close but that game never really felt that way. It was almost eerie it was so calm. The girls were in the perfect mindset. They just really settled in and I’m not sure they couldn’t have beaten anyone on that given night. That was the most focused, intense but still having fun that I’ve ever seen them play. I would truly put them up against anyone when they’re in that mindset because they’re such a great group of athletes that work together so well when the conditions are right.”
The Lady Falcons are first and foremost a team and with the time spent over the years, bonds are strengthened. When speaking to the 4 Lady Falcon seniors, that sentiment was emphasized.
“I’m going to miss all the girls and just being on the softball field with them,” Brooklyn Reed described.
When discussing the bond between the seniors, in which Jacobsen mentioned she’d miss most about her classmates, “We are super close. There’s never been any division between us.”
Jaide Harvey added “We’re the four that have stuck it out through multiple different sports together over the years.” Willey adding in, “(But) our season isn’t over.”
The seniors couldn’t leave the idea of “team” and “goals” out of the discussion following the win because they know celebrating each teammates success is the most important.
Jacobsen pointed out “When you work so hard and finally accomplish what you (as a team) have been working for it’s a really good feeling.”
Willey mentioned, “We have unfinished business so let’s celebrate but let’s keep rolling because we’ve got a job to do.”
“The main focus is let’s attack this first game and keep it rolling from there,” Jacobsen added when talking of the next step.
So what’s the consensus among the seniors to what they’ll miss most about all their teammates once the season comes to an end? “The atmosphere; positive and fun,” each of the seniors agreed, “how proud of each other we are.”
When asked about this year’s trip to Fort Dodge Coach Fortune explained, ”We’ve had teams that have worked so hard to get to Ft Dodge. That was their goal. The whole time was to get to Fort Dodge, to win the region and go. This group being back-to-back-to-back, they have an entire new focus. It isn’t just to go to Fort Dodge. It is to win the first game. They have the next goal.”
“So it was about celebrating but then the focus became who are we playing and what do we know about them. That’s always us as coaches but that came from the girls. They’re enjoying the success and the attention they’re receiving but they really are looking towards the next goal. It won’t be brand new for very many kids and that will help us a ton because they know what to expect. The fields won’t be scary, they won’t be crazy. Just having the experiences in the past I think is going to help them be able to maintain that focus of game number 1.” said Coach Fortune.
Assistant Coach Lain added, “I think we are more prepared to be extremely successful at Fort Dodge than we have at any other time. Our girls have been there, they know what to expect, and they know what it’s like to not be successful there. It still resonates with them because they don’t want that to happen again and they have much higher goals now.”
What are the girls looking forward to on the trip to Fort Dodge? “Getting to have this amazing opportunity, especially with my girls,” Reed explained. “When the 3rd out happened (to end the regional finals) I knew right then that we had accomplished our 1st goal towards the state title.”
Jacobsen pointed out, “We’ve earned our number 2 ranking and now have to prove we deserve we’re number 1.”
Willey followed, “We have respect for everyone that is (at the state tournament). We’ve been there twice and we know what it feels like to end (with a loss) that first game. Just have to focus on what we need to do to end up on top.”
To echo Coach Fortune’s earlier comment regarding celebrating the team’s success, “It just doesn’t get old.”
It really doesn’t.