FORT DODGE, Iowa — With an eight-run cushion, nobody on base and two outs in the seventh inning Friday afternoon, Louisa-Muscatine assistant coach Nathan Koppe came out to the pitching circle.
It was a succinct conversation with pitcher Hailey Sanders and the infielders.
“He just said he wanted to do this one last time with me,” Sanders said. “He’s been calling pitches for me since I was a freshman.”
Trying to fight back tears, Sanders pieced together a gem in her final game in a Falcon uniform. The Northern Iowa recruit spun a two-hitter and struck out 14 in second-ranked L-M’s 8-0 triumph over fourth-ranked Northeast in the Class 2A consolation game at the Rogers Sports Complex.
Sanders, named to the all-tournament team, finished with 39 strikeouts and yielded only seven hits in the three games.
“She’s hands-down the best pitcher we saw all year,” Northeast coach Travis Eversmeyer said. “We hadn’t seen anybody who throws as hard as she does with the movement she has. It gave us fits.”
It capped a memorable career for Sanders. She helped the Falcons register their third consecutive top-three finish at state, quite a feat for a program which never had been to the state tournament before 2018.
Sanders accumulated 69 pitching wins and 784 strikeouts for her career. She shared pitching duties throughout her career until the past two seasons.
“My motto the whole tournament was to leave it all on the field for myself and teammates,” Sanders said. “My screwball, especially, was working very well. That has been an on-and-off pitch throughout the season, but it was spot-on this week.”
One bad inning cost L-M (20-6) an opportunity at playing for a third straight title Friday. Ogden used a four-run sixth inning to upend the Falcons in the semifinals.
“I challenged the girls to dig deep and finish strong,” L-M coach Bryan Butler said. “Third place is outstanding. The girls played a lot looser this game, put runs on the board and Hailey was dominant in the circle.”
The Falcons scored in each of the first four innings. Brynn Jeambey and Beth Butler each drove in two runs while seven different players in L-M’s lineup had one hit.
“For us and our two seniors, Hailey and Beth, it means the world to finish off with a win,” Kylee Sanders said. “It might not have ended like we wanted to, but I’m so proud of each and every one of them.”
While Hailey Sanders prepares for the next chapter of her softball career at Northern Iowa next season, she also plans to serve as her sister’s pitching coach.
Kylee will be the Falcons’ top pitcher next summer.
“I’m going to work with her all winter and try and get her to where I am,” Hailey said.
Kylee is a four-sport athlete and admits she never has spent much time focusing on pitching in an offseason.
“If I put in the work and time, I hope I can definitely become something,” Kylee said. “We had a pretty young team this year with a lot of these girls playing with us for the first time. They’ll be way more comfortable next year with us.”
And if Kylee can develop into a true ace, Butler believes the Falcons can finish their season in Fort Dodge again.
“We’re going to have to work to keep Kylee healthy and not ride her too much,” Butler said. “We might take some losses throughout the season, but we’re going to look at our schedule, ramp it up again and try and get back here.”
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