LETTS, Iowa — The Louisa-Muscatine softball team has just seven hits and two runs in the last two games. And yet, the Falcons are headed back to state for the second year in a row.

Hailey Sanders struck out 13 and didn’t allow a run as Louisa-Muscatine edged Wlliamsburg 1-0 to clinch a trip to the state tournament in Fort Dodge.

“It’s amazing, indescribable,” Hailey Sanders said. “I know we can play with anyone.”

“It sets the bar higher,” Louisa-Muscatine coach Butler said. “We’re looking forward to it. This is going to be a lot of fun.”

The Falcons’ junior pitcher has 44 strikeouts and hasn’t allowed an earned run in three postseason games. Her latest strikeout was the most important one yet, as Hailey Sanders rang up Williamsburg’s Peyton Driscoll with runners on second and third to end the game.

“She’s just a machine,” Butler said. “She’s a very smart softball player in addition to being able to throw the way she does. … She’s an elite pitcher and I would match her up with anybody in the state.”

The Class 3A No. 2 Falcons (33-4) needed every one of those 13 strikeouts, as their offense sputtered for a second consecutive game. They managed just three hits and struggled to handle Driscoll’s changeup, but were still able to manufacture a run in the bottom of the third inning.

“She just kept us off balance all night,” Butler said of Driscoll, Williamsburg’s pitcher. “We took a lot of good pitches tonight. When you take a good pitch from a pitcher like that she’s going to work you over.”

Senior Katie Koppe, who has struggled at the plate in the last few weeks, started the third inning with a single into right field. Mallory Mashek reached on an error and then Mallory Hohenadel advanced both runners with a bunt.

Then, junior Kylee Sanders laid down a bunt to score Koppe.

“It was a really good feeling knowing I started it,” Koppe said. “Once we scored it was a big relief.”

However, the Falcons went from possibly having runners on the corners with one out to just one runner on third with two outs. Kylee Sanders was called out at first for rounding the base with Driscoll, Williamsburg’s pitcher, back in the circle.

McKenna Hohenadel grounded out to end the inning, but that was all the run support Hailey Sanders needed.

Class 3A No. 10 Williamsburg (31-12) put runners on second and third with one out in the third inning, but Hailey Sanders pitched her way out of the jam. The Raiders only generated one base runner in the next three innings and didn’t threaten in any of them.

It seemed Hailey Sanders would cruise through the seventh, too, but a two-out walk complicated things. Then, Willamsburg’s Megan Lamparek ripped a double into center field, but L-M’s McKenna Hohenadel made perhaps a game-saving throw into the infield to hold the runner at third.

Hailey Sanders did the rest, as she struck out Driscoll to send the Falcons, the reigning Class 2A champions, back to state for the second consecutive season.

“My curveball (worked) and I threw a few changeups in there,” Hailey Sanders said. “You don’t see that much because usually that’s not on but it was today.”

Perhaps most importantly, the pressure both Koppe and Hailey Sanders admitted the Falcons felt to make it back to Rogers Sports Complex in the last few weeks is off. The Falcons hope that means their bats will return in time for another run in Fort Dodge.

“Everyone was so nervous and I feel like at the plate we were in our heads a little bit,” Hailey Sanders said. “That was the one thing we were worried about was getting to Fort Dodge.

“We want to go up there and win state but just getting there is amazing.”

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