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Friday, May 6, 2016

Lady Westerners looking for second straight state title

Friday, August 4, 2006

A-W sophomore pitcher Kayla Smith was almost perfect in a 4-0 semifinal win over Madrid. The Lady Westerners will need another such performance Friday to capture their first Class 1A title against Newell-Fonda.
(Sentinel photo by Roy Tucker)
And then there were two.

Akron-Westfield and Newell-Fonda have taken very different paths to get to this point, but Friday the two will collide in the Class 1A state softball tournament title game at the Rogers Sports Complex in Fort Dodge.

The Lady Westerners rolled through the regular season and - outside on an extra-inning win over Woodbury Central - have dominated on the tournament trail with wins over North Mahaska and Madrid. Newell-Fonda rose to the No. 1 ranking midway through the season, only to struggle in the second half before coming together once the tournament started. The Mustangs knocked off No. 3-ranked North Kossuth in the regional finals and held off title-game favorite and No. 2-ranked Charter Oak-Ute 1-0 in the semifinals to earn a shot at top-ranked A-W.

"Their last three or four games, they have played close to perfect," said A-W Coach Todd Colt. "There's no better time of year to be peaking then right now and I definitely think they're peaking. They've had a good run late in the year and I think they're a better team now then halfway through the season when I saw them."

A-W and Newell-Fonda both participated in the Spencer Classic June 22-23, but did not meet. The teams have shared six common opponents throughout the course of the season, however, with A-W owning a 5-1 record and Newell-Fonda a 5-3 mark against those teams. Charter Oak-Ute owns wins over both squads, while A-W defeated both Storm Lake and Storm Lake St. Mary's with the Mustangs dropping decisions to both.

In Newell-Fonda's big wins, both in regionals and at the state tournament, the common thread has been the low score. The Mustangs average 5.6 runs per game and sport a team batting average of .285 with only one player in the lineup over .300. Colt said that pushing runs across early and forcing Newell-Fonda to keep pace will be a big leg up for the Lady Westerners if they can make it happen.

"I think it's important to get on the scoreboard early," said Colt. "If we don't, then we go back to being patient and hoping we get our chances as the game goes on."

Those hopes have been realized for A-W in its six tournament games to this point, but Friday's title game could shape up different - as Charter Oak-Ute found out - against Newell-Fonda pitcher Hanna Reis. Senior Reis came into the tournament at 21-7 with a 1.03 ERA, 180 strikeouts and 21 walks. Through two games of the state tournament, she's struck out 16 and walked just one. Her accuracy and pitch selection has been superb, not unlike former A-W pitcher and current assistant coach Tarah Colt. The similarities are such that the Lady Westerners have been taking their share of batting practice off Colt leading up to Friday's title game.

"She's not going to give you any free rides," said Colt. "She spots her pitches very well and has a very, very good change-up. She's a very similar pitcher to my daughter Tarah. When a pitcher like Reis has a very good change-up, it makes her fastball even better."

The Mustangs were led at the plate during the regular season by freshman first baseman Lauren Devereaux, who hit .293 with team highs in RBIs (25) and home runs (2). Devereaux has struggled at the state tournament at a combined 0 for 7, while the team's best hitter by average at .377 - senior second baseman Tiffany Parker - has a pair of hits and one RBI. The Mustangs have struck out 10 times during the tournament and don't steal many bases (2.3 per game), but Colt said that like their 29-11 record, the statistics can be misleading.

"They had 10 hits against New London, who was a very good team, so you can't be fooled by their batting averages," said Colt. "And I think they have good team speed. I think they can match us speed-for-speed without any problem. We just have to keep those kids off the bases and they're going to do the same thing to our speed kids."

If the speed factor is a wash as Colt suggests, then A-W's advantage can be had in the power and average department. The Lady Westerners have five players with more RBIs than top Newell-Fonda slugger Devereaux and no player in the lineup - save shortstop Mackenzie Heyl - bats under .300.

"We just hope to put some pressure on them and put the ball in play," said Colt. "Hopefully get a few breaks to go our way and take advantage of it."

A-W will rely on sophomore pitcher Kayla Smith to keep Newell-Fonda off the base paths. Smith took a perfect game into the seventh inning in the Lady Westerners' 4-0 semifinal round win over Madrid after a spotty start against North Mahaska.

"For the most part, she's pitched real consistent all year," said Colt. "There's some games she's been outstanding in and there's games where I've had high expectations for her, but I think tomorrow she'll do just fine."

Both teams are state tournament veterans with A-W competing for the fourth straight season and Newell-Fonda making a return trip after placing fourth in 1A last year. But the Lady Westerners are defending 2A champs with several key components returning off the '05 title squad.

"I think our veterans are keeping things in perspective for the young kids," said Colt. "They're all excited about the way things have worked out down here and I know one thing - they're all ready to play tomorrow."

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