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LETTS – The Louisa-Muscatine softball team has been knocking on the door of a state tournament appearance for the last couple of seasons, but has fallen short with losses in the regional championship and regional semifinals.

Monday night, the Falcons finally broke through and did something that has never been done before in program history: qualify for the state tournament.

Isabelle True and Hailey Sanders combined to strike out 11 batters in the Class 2A Region 7 championship to lead Class 2A No. 3 Louisa-Muscatine to a 3-0 win over Class 2A No. 13 East Marshall.

“We’ve been waiting for this forever and it just feels so good,” junior Katie Koppe said. “I can’t even describe it. I’m so happy I can’t even explain it.”

Louisa-Muscatine coach Bryan Butler admitted his team was “a little nervous coming in,” but Koppe changed that in a hurry. Freshman leadoff hitter Kylee Sanders drew a walk and stole second in the first inning, then Koppe crushed an inside pitch for a double to bring Kylee Sanders home and give the Falcons (35-6) a 1-0 lead.

“That was huge,” Butler said. “Kylee stealing second to get in position to score was huge, too. We knew we weren’t going to get easy runs, and we knew we were going to have to take whatever we could get. For us to score in the first inning was big.”

In the third inning, the Falcons loaded the bases with no outs and turned that into two runs. Kylee Sanders scored on a wild pitch, and Hailey Sanders hit a sacrifice fly to score eighth-grader McKenna Hohenadel and give them a 3-0 lead.

Three runs is well below Louisa-Muscatine’s usual offensive output, but it was all the cushion True and Hailey Sanders needed. True started the game and struck out seven batters while giving up just one hit and no runs.

“The inside rise and curveball outside were both on,” True said. “I was just working the corners.”

Regardless of how well True was pitching, Butler said the plan was to use both her and sophomore Hailey Sanders on Monday night, so he put Sanders in to start the sixth inning. She allowed just one hit and struck out four batters to seal the deal and book a trip to Fort Dodge and the Class 2A state tournament for the Falcons.

“This is awesome,” Butler said. “For us to make it in my second year of coaching, it all belongs on the girls. They did a great job this season, just a great group of kids. I couldn’t be happier as a coach, and I couldn’t be more proud.”

Five years ago, the thought of Louisa-Muscatine qualifying for the state tournament didn’t exist. In fact, the Falcons were worried about just trying to win games.

From 2011 to 2014 the Falcons compiled a 17-99 record. They went through five coaches in seven seasons from 2009 to 2016. The first hope for a turnaround came as the current nine-girl junior class continued to improve as they worked their way up playing traveling softball.

“We’ve been playing together since we were 9,” Koppe said. “At first everybody was like ‘oh, it’s L-M, we’re going to come in and roll them over. But they found out we were better.’”

“It’s good to be a part of a program, we’ve built it,” True, a junior, said. “My junior class has been a huge part of it.”

Louisa-Muscatine started winning, but still fell just short of a state tournament appearance. At this time in July 2016 and 2017, the Falcons were sitting at home thinking about what could have been, but that won’t be the case this time.

This time, the night ended the way they wanted, as Hailey Sanders struck out a batter to end Monday’s game against East Marshall. The celebration ensued for Louisa-Muscatine on its home field, and it eventually ended with Butler being doused in a bucket of water.

And now the Falcons are on to Fort Dodge.

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Sports Reporter