LETTS, Iowa — Louisa-Muscatine softball coach Bryan Butler poses the same question to his team after each practice and game: What’s the one thing we learned?
Wednesday, the Falcons’ response to that question was simple.
“They said, ‘We can play with anybody,’” Butler said.
Junior Hailey Sanders struck out 12 batters and freshman McKenna Hohenadel’s RBI single in the sixth inning scored the winning run to lift Louisa-Muscatine to a 2-1 win over Pleasant Valley in a battle of 2018 state champions.
“They were a little intimidated with PV coming in,” Butler said. “They’re a great team, and they play outstanding softball.”
Both teams managed only four hits, but it was the Falcons’ timely hits that proved to be the difference in what Hohenadel and Hailey Sanders both agreed was a statement win over the two-time defending Class 5A state champions.
“I’m just really excited,” Sanders said. “That was an amazing team win. It was a nail-biter the entire time.”
Louisa-Muscatine (2-0) struck first in the second inning when Hailey Sanders hit a leadoff double and scored off an RBI single by freshman Brynn Jeambey moments later for a 1-0 lead. That was the only pair of hits the Falcons had until the sixth inning.
That was despite not striking out a single time at the plate Wednesday on their home field. However, seemingly every time they made good contact, it was directly to a Spartan defender.
“Nobody was down,” Butler said. “We know if we hit it hard, but hit it at people, that’s part of the game. The kids have matured, they come in with a mindset of good things are going to happen.”
While the offense struggled to produce runs against PV pitcher Cristin Hartman, Hailey Sanders did her part in holding Pleasant Valley (0-1) in check. On the strength of her curveball and riseball, she finished the game with 12 strikeouts, which included six in a row in the second and third innings.
“She was mixing it up nice,” Butler said. “She has a lot of movement pitches, and they were working well. Her rise ball set up it (curveball) up nice.”
However, she faced her first adversity in the fourth inning when PV’s Emily Wood, who finished with three stolen bases, singled, stole two bases and scored off a RBI single by Bell Luebken. Moments later, with two runners on base, Jeambey narrowly missed a diving catch on a bunt attempt by the Spartans’ Jessi Meyer.
That loaded the bases with zero outs.
“We didn’t cave,” Butler said. “We let it go, and that’s really what we’re working on this year.”
Butler opted not to call time and speak with Hailey Sanders because he didn’t feel the need. The junior proved her coach correct. She forced a fielder’s choice and struck out two batters to get out of the inning with the score still tied 1-1.
“I’m just trying to stay calm in those situations,” Hailey Sanders said. “That’s not my first time being in that situation. I just needed to stay calm, believe in my defense and believe in my pitches.”
The offense finally came alive in the bottom of the sixth for the Class 3A No. 7 Falcons, as sophomore Kylee Sanders hit a blooper over third base and slid safely into second base. On the first pitch of the next at-bat, Hohenadel ripped the ball down the third base line to score Sanders and seal the win.
“Right away I just though, 'I’m taking the first pitch,’” Hohenadel said. “Every single time she’d (Hartman) throw me a first-pitch strike. I was looking for that pitch.
“We don’t want to get too high, of course. We want to stay level-headed. We know it was a big win, but we’re still looking forward to the next game, taking it one game at a time.”