They say a full moon can bring heightened emotions to the surface when the dark sky is lit up with the moons brightness. On Monday evening, after the Lady Falcons won their Regional Final game to advance to the Iowa Girls High School State Softball Tournament on their home turf, the emotions were absolutely running high as Wayne shut out Melcher 8-0 to advance on to state for the first time in five years.
It was a warm 82 degrees for the game of the year to begin following the National Anthem, which was sung by Missy Niday, mother of Lady Falcon Head Coach Heather Fortune who is in her 12th season heading up the Wayne team. With the largest crowd anyone in attendance could ever remember seeing at Carpenter Field, the Lady Falcons were ready to give the hometown crowd a game to remember.
The Melcher-Dallas Saints, of the Bluegrass Conference, entered the contest with a slightly better record than the Lady Falcons sitting with 27 wins and only 5 losses. The Wayne softball squad took the field with 22 wins and 8 losses.
While the two schools sit only 35 miles apart, they had yet to step on the same field this season as they hail from two separate conferences. It was a game that could be tricky to predict an outcome of.
As the visiting squad, the Saints stepped up to the plate first. The first 2 batters would make contact but nothing that could get past Wayne shortstop freshman Maddy Wood on defense. Freshman pitcher Sterling Berndt would end the top of the 1st after sending the 3rd gal in the lineup back to the bench for her 1st strikeout of the evening.
Kicking off Wayne’s turn at bat, Berndt proved why she leads the conference in slugger’s percentage as she ripped a hard line drive to left field just over the glove for a double. Sophomore Camryn Jacobsen gripped her bat not wanting to leave Berndt stranded and cased 1 down the middle to centerfield to send Berndt in for the 1st run of the contest while gaining a triple for her personal season stats.
As Berndt took the mound top of the 2nd, she found her pitching stride sitting down all 3 gals that came to the plate. With Wayne leading 1-0, junior Allison Wik would be 1st to the box for the bottom of the 2nd.
Wik tears 1 up the middle for a single to get the 2nd inning started off right. With freshman Sidney Davis taking Wik’s place on 1st, sophomore Mya Willey stays alive after battling off fouls to get the walk to 1st.
With Berndt back up at the top of the lineup, she cranks another shot to the fence to score Davis and Willey and gained another double, for Wayne to go up 3-0.
Top of the 3rd the temps begin to cool off slightly, but the Lady Falcon defense and performance on the mound is only heating up. Berndt tallies 2 strikeouts while Wik makes a pop-fly catch at 2nd to send the Saints back to defense.
Freshman Emily Jones kicks off the offense for the Lady Falcons with a split down the middle for a single. Wood takes Jones lead as her hit followed the same path to make her way to 1st and advance Jones to 2nd. Melcher’s senior pitcher grits down not ready for her season to end just yet sitting down Wayne’s next 2 in the lineup to leave Jones and Wood stranded on the bases.
With Melcher back to the plate hoping to get things going for their offense, they snag a single before senior Raegan Tilley catches 1 deep in center for 1st out in the top of the 4th. Melcher offense again strikes as their cleanup batter rips 1 deep that makes way to the fence in right for a double advancing runner from 1st to 3rd.
The Saints, sitting in striking position begin to see a light to put them on the board. Berndt quickly extinguishes the flame with 2 big strikeouts to keep Melcher scoreless on offense.
Bottom of the 4th Willey takes 1 to shallow left field for a single before Berndt steps up to the plate and finds centerfield fence for a triple, scoring Willey. With Tilley laying down a perfect bunt, Berndt comes in hard on a squeeze play to be safe at home for the run while Tilley takes 1st.
Jones steps up with 2 outs and lands a deep shot in left field for a double, scoring Tilley to put Wayne up 6-0 after 4 innings.
Berndt once again takes control for the Lady Falcon defense as the 1st 2 Saints at bat go down swinging with Jacobsen hanging tight behind the plate. Possibly feeling some compassion for the Melcher offense, Berndt walks one to 1st. Just kidding, Berndt gathers the next hit down 1st base line to make the play and end the slight tease to scoring a run in the 5th for the Saints.
Willey kicks off the 5th inning with a big double on a rip to the fence in left field. Sophomore Jaide Harvey steps up to crank 1 deep in centerfield over the glove to trade places with Willey. After Willey scores with Harvey sitting on 2nd, the Saints aren’t willing to take any chances with the top of Wayne’s lineup.
Berndt gets sent to 1st on a no-pitch intentional walk allowing Wayne to gain only 1 run in the 5th to move their lead to 7-0.
Top of the 6th, Melcher looks to get on base any way possible with the 1st at bat taking base after being hit by a pitch. Wood and Harvey knock down a pop fly a piece for 2 outs. Melcher sends a hard shot down 1st base line, but nothing gets past senior Bayleigh Kellis-Nail and she drops down to snag the ball leaving yet another runner stranded for the Saints on offense as she gets the 3rd out.
With Jacobsen leading the Pride of Iowa Conference in homeruns this season, she shows why she’s the “Homerun Queen” as she takes a solo shot deep over the left field fence. Jones steps up to the plate looking to follow suite, but left field is ready this time making a huge catch.
Wood looks to the opposite side of the field and makes her way to 1st for a single. Wik takes her turn before Melcher’s 2nd baseman makes a big play taking Wood out as she looked to advance leaving Wayne with 8 runs as they step onto the field for the top of the 7th.
With the Lady Falcons needing just 3 outs to begin their celebration, they do so with ease as Tilley makes a catch in centerfield before Berndt has a big strike out and play to 1st to end the game. Wayne wins 8-0 and earns their trip to state for the 1st time in five years after an oh-so-close heartbreaking sub-state loss last season in Martensdale.
“We came into this game not knowing what to expect with Melcher,” said Wood. “We play different competition all season and with their good record and them blowing people out of the water in their conference, it was hard to know what we would face.”
For senior Tilley, winning the regional final in Corydon to move to state competition is a highlight she won’t soon forget, “It’s like winning a million dollars without getting the money. It feels awesome to not end our season sad because that’s what we’ve had to do the last four years with tears.”
“We get to end our softball career in Fort Dodge so that’s pretty cool,” said fellow senior Kellis-Nail.
Being a freshman pitcher on the mound, Berndt knew what she needed to do for her team, “I didn’t want it to be our last game so I knew I had to step-up and be on my A-game on the mound because last year it really hurt not making it to state when we were so close.”
“When it comes to these types of games, you have to do your part for the team and even though at times I personally struggled, it makes a difference staying positive and staying up for your team which is what hurt us last year,” said Jacobsen, Berndt’s partner behind the plate. “We have worked so hard and I definitely think we deserved this win on our home field tonight after our trip and win at BCLUW last week.”
“Having the home field advantage for this game was super calming for our kids tonight,” said coach Fortune as she looks to make her 4th trip to Fort Dodge heading up the Lady Falcon softball squad. “The girls were in the dugout and it was nice they really couldn’t see the crowd at the beginning until they stepped out and then it was a holy cow moment.”
Dally Veach will be heading to the state tournament this time in the role of assistant coach following her trip to state as a top team member on the 2014 Lady Falcon state qualifying team, “We have never hosted a regional final game here before and we’ve had giant crowds before but never like this here, so it was awesome. It’s like what Heather said earlier, if this doesn’t get you ready for Fort Dodge then I don’t know what will.”
“The first 3 outs were so big for us in this game because you could see the nerves calm,” Fortune stated. “Getting those outs then Sterling stepping up with a big hit as the number 1 batter helped the girls settle in and helped them see they are just playing another softball game.”
Even with Wayne’s lead gradually increasing nearly every inning, Fortune wasn’t quick to relax. “I never have that comfortable feeling until the game is over, even in the 7th inning I still knew we had to get 3 outs.”
“Sometimes the last 3 outs are the hardest to get,” Veach added. “We had full confidence in our girls but sometimes the last inning can get to you the most.”
“Melcher is well coached and I hadn’t seen them enough to feel comfortable,” said Fortune. “As a coach you never want to assume anything, even having full confidence in my girls.”
With the Carpenter Field scoreboard having a rough season not always working 100 percent, Fortune checked it first thing Monday morning to find half the lights not working.
“I thought after working maybe I should check it and half of it was out,” said Fortune. “The school called Larry Warren and said whatever else you have going can you please come to the field first. He came within a half hour and got it going for us.”
Perfect timing as what better time for the scoreboard to proudly show an 8-0 win as Wayne looks ahead in preparations for the state tournament.
The Lady Falcons will continue to practice as state brackets were released late Monday evening placing them with a number 7 seed and set to meet number 2 seed Lisbon in the 1st round. As of press time, Wayne will be meeting the 32-6 team on July 22 at 1 p.m. where if victorious they will advance to the 2nd round scheduled for Wednesday, July 24 at 1 p.m. Should the Lady Falcons fall short in the 1st round they will play Tuesday, July 23 at 11:30 a.m.
Stay tuned to the Corydon Times-Republican Facebook page as we bring you live updates from Fort Dodge of all the Lady Falcon state action. Falcon Pride!