FORT DODGE, Iowa — Wednesday's Class 2A state semifinal took a twist in the top of the sixth inning.
The second-ranked Louisa-Muscatine Falcons were clinging to a 2-0 lead against third-ranked Ogden and enjoying the benefits of senior Hailey Sanders’ bat, glove and arm.
However Ogden broke through with a four-run sixth and L-M failed to respond, falling 4-2.
Sanders retired the first Bulldog hitter in the sixth before intentionally walking Denali Loecker. Senior Jenna Palmer followed the Ogden star senior pitcher by drawing a six-pitch walk.
The next Bulldog hitter, junior Reagan Church drove the first pitch to right field, where it dropped for a single and managed to skip past L-M junior right fielder Mae Cox. Suddenly it was 2-2.
Then a couple seniors came through for the Bulldogs.
Hannah Dutcher was issued a base on balls and Gabby Ross smashed a two-run double to give Ogden a two-run advantage.
Loecker entered hitting .565 with 10 home runs and 29 RBIs this season and was intentionally walked on three of her four at-bats. She’s been avoided all year, having been walked 35 times in 24 games, including Wednesday’s contest.
“You never let the other team’s best player beat you,” Louisa-Muscatine head coach Bryan Butler said. “And I thought it was still the right decision. … The other girls played outstanding for Ogden. They’re a very good team.
“They made adjustments and they hit the ball.”
Ogden head coach Mike Moses credited his team’s perseverance in coming through in the sixth.
“They back each other and keep each other’s chin up no matter what,” said Moses. “Things didn’t look good early. We couldn’t hardly touch (Sanders).”
Before the sixth, Louisa-Muscatine looked to have some measure of control, albeit with only a two-run lead, while getting a splendid all-around performance from Sanders.
The L-M senior standout strolled into second for a double her first at-bat and singled in both Falcon runs in the third. She ended 2-for-3 at the plate.
On the mound, Sanders, a UNI softball commit, went for 13 strikeouts, of which 10 came in the first four innings. She also recorded four putouts, ranging from a base hit-robbing snag of a liner to a slick back-handed stop and toss to first. Of the first 16 Ogden outs, Sanders had a hand in all but one, a fly out to left that ended the third.
“(Hailey) did an outstanding job in the circle,” said Butler. “You can’t take anything away from Ogden. They made adjustments throughout the game. They were chasing the rise ball early on and they made adjustments and got key hits when they needed them.”
Ogden (21-3) tried for a fifth run in the sixth, but a nice throw from freshman left fielder Jersey Lessenger cut down the Bulldog runner at the plate to keep it to a two-run deficit for the Falcons.
Freshman McKenzie Kissel and sophomore McKenna Hohenadel set up Sanders' two-run single, with Kissel reaching on a walk and Hohenadel a base hit.
In the circle for the Bulldogs, Loecker recorded a modest four strikeouts over seven innings, but the Ogden defense put the clamps down on a Louisa-Muscatine (19-6) lineup that has been dangerous all season long.
Junior Mallory Mashek singled with one away in the seventh to keep the Falcons alive momentarily, but other than that, L-M got only two hits each from Sanders and Hohenadel.
Louisa-Muscatine will play four-seed Northeast (20-3) on Friday at 3:30 p.m. in the Class 2A consolation game.
“We have another game on Friday and we want to get the win there,” Sanders said. “That’s our new goal. … No matter what happens we’ll always be proud of each other and of this team.
“I’m happy to be a part of (the L-M program). We made history (at L-M) and I was a part of it.”