Gehlen wins 4-1 to advance to state softball tournament for first time
LE MARS -- The Gehlen Catholic Lady Jays scored four runs in the second inning and stifled the Akron-Westfield lineup to win 4-1 Monday at Le Mars Community to make the school's first-ever appearance in the state softball tournament.
A-W (35-2), ranked No. 1 in Class 1A and the two-time defending state champions, looked to be making a push in the fifth inning trailing 4-1.
Junior Katie Coyle, sophomore Kayla Tindall and freshman Kortney Hedlund led off the fifth inning with three consecutive singles to load the bases with no outs.
Junior Haley Coyle hit a grounder to the left side of the infield, but Gehlen senior catcher Lisa Gunter was unable to control the throw home. Katie Coyle scored what would be the Lady Westerners' only run of the game.
A-W junior Jaclyn Smith and senior Monica Harvey then grounded into back-to-back fielder's choices to Gehlen shortstop Steph Rohe and third baseman Shannon Smith. Rohe and Smith both threw for force-outs at home plate.
Senior Brandi Davis then flied out to center field to end the top half of the fifth inning.
"Bases loaded, no outs gives you a sinking feeling in your stomach," said Gehlen head coach Patty Hatting. "The girls pulled it off only allowing one run. That's when I knew that things were looking awfully good."
Neither team threatened for the rest of the game.
Hedlund led off the top of the seventh inning with a screamer back at Gehlen senior pitcher Amber Timmins. Timmins caught the line drive and calmly signaled to her teammates that that was the first out.
Haley Coyle grounded out to the right side of the field for the second out. Smith grounded out to third. The Lady Jays' celebration began as soon as sophomore first baseman Alison Schnepf caught Shannon Smith's throw.
"Our girls came through," Hatting said. "We've had good games with defense. We've had good games with offense. Everything went together tonight.
"Amber's pitching was amazing. Our defense was solid. We hit the ball. Some of the girls who have been frustrated with their hitting this season came through with hits when it counted."
"Gehlen made the plays," said A-W head coach Todd Colt. "They made them all night long. We made (the plays) except for one inning. When you get to this time of the year, one inning can make a difference. It did tonight."
Gehlen (24-10) struck in the second inning thanks, in part, to some poor defense by A-W.
Junior second baseman Abby Freking singled to center field to lead off the bottom half of the inning for the Lady Jays. Schnepf then hit a ground ball to shortstop, but a poor throw allowed her to be safe at first and for Freking to advance to third base. Eighth-grader Jill Kessenich entered to run for Schnepf.
A fielding error on a ground ball by Baily Wiltgen allowed Freking to score the first run of the game. A-W finally had a positive in the inning when senior catcher Melissa Kroksh tracked and caught a foul ball behind home plate from Gehlen junior Abigail Krienert.
Smith hit a grounder, but another error allowed Kessenich to give Gehlen a 2-0 lead. Rohe hit into a fielder's choice and Tindall tagged out Wiltgen at third base.
Junior Brittany Krienert then hit a fly ball to right field that was dropped. Smith scored on the play and Rohe advanced to third base. Gunter plated Rohe with a single to center field. Timmins flied out to Davis at pitcher for the third out, but the damage was done.
"We told our girls, 'We have nothing to lose. The pressure is on (A-W). They have one loss all season. The pressure is on them.' So I think our girls went out with that relaxed feeling," Hatting said. "Once we started making things happen, we capitalized on it."
"(Gehlen) played really well for seven innings, we played really well for six innings," Colt said. "This isn't about us tonight. It's about (Gehlen). They played well. They deserved it. The team that played better tonight won."
Timmins and the Gehlen defense held A-W to six hits and the Lady Westerners left seven runners on base.
"I knew I had my defense behind me," Timmins said. "So if I pitched one heck of a game that I could, I knew my defense would get all of the balls that went through.
"We played awesome," Timmins said. "We would hustle to every ball and get an out if we could."
"It was a crazy game," Rohe said. "I think we just tried to play our hardest. We knew they were going to get their good hits. They always hit solid. They're such a good team. It's amazing."
Davis pitched the first two innings and the seventh inning. Sophomore Dana Hedlund entered the circle in the third and pitched through the sixth inning.
The Lady Jays made five hits and left five runners on base. Both teams issued just one walk in the game.
The five Gehlen hits came from five different players: Brittany and Abigail Krienert, Gunter, Timmins and Freking. Rohe, Freking, Kessenich and Smith scored once each for Gehlen.
The loss ends the Lady Westerners' streak of nine consecutive state tournament appearances.
Timmins said it was not just an accomplishment to qualify for state, but also to, "not to end on Akron, who we've always wanted to beat to get to state," Timmins said.
"Even if we would have lost, I know we would have lost to a quality, great team that Akron is," Rohe said. "I'm just glad we stuck together and played our best and hopefully we can carry it over to the (state) tournament."
"They played well and I wish them luck at state," Colt said.
The Lady Jays may be making their first appearance in the state softball tournament, but this group has gotten very accustomed to the big stage this year. The Gehlen Catholic girls' teams have qualified for each state competition in every sport.
"This is a whole new thing for the softball program," Hatting said. "We will be set. We will be set to go."
Gehlen's first game in the state tournament will be between 11:00 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. next Monday, July 16 at Rodgers Park in Fort Dodge.