TRAER - A quick scan through the Iowa Star Conference softball batting stats speaks volumes of the Redhawks' prolific offense.
Though with its usual punch at the plate held in check Thursday, the North Tama softball team let its legs do the talking.
Taking advantage of a pair of Spartan miscues, the Redhawks used some adept baserunning and solid pitching to hold off Grundy Center, 4-3, at Lee Wiges Field.
T-R PHOTO BY TYLER STRAND
North Tama senior Emma Knoop releases a pitch in Thursday’s 4-3 non-conference win over Grundy Center in Traer. Knoop doubled and struck out four as the Redhawks improved to 11-3.
"We knew we could be aggressive on the basepaths," North Tama coach Bob Cue said. "(Kayla Mathews) was keeping us off balance, so we were going to do whatever we could to try to still make them make plays and make them throw the ball."
The Spartans used that strategy to rally in the seventh with back-to-back singles from Jill Eitzen and Mathews, setting up Riley Ackerman's RBI single. Ackerman was caught trying to advance to second but took the attention away from home where both Mathews and courtesy runner Harper Wells crossed to bring the deficit to one.
Jessica Ackerson reached first on an error, before Emma Knoop helped North Tama (11-3) escape the jam by striking out Jessika VanDeest.
The late push has become a familiar sight for Grundy Center coach Jeff Mathews, who would like to see his team strike earlier.
"It seems like almost every game we wait to get things started," Mathews said.
"A lot of teams put pressure on us and then late in the game is when we do it. That makes the difference. Put pressure on the other team and they make a few mistakes then."
North Tama, which led its league in eight offensive categories through Tuesday, created pressure with their constant movement on the basepaths. The Redhawks stole six bases and claimed a couple more on passed balls to overcome a quiet-for-them eight-hit outing against Matthews.
"She was keeping the ball inside and we were kind of jamming ourselves," Cue said of Kayla Mathews.
"We were anxious and lunging at the ball. She did a good job and kept us off balance."
Anna Kvidera gave the Redhawks a spark and the lead for good in the bottom of the fourth reaching first on a bunt before stealing second and advancing all the way home on a pair of errant throws by the Spartans. Sam Zobel's RBI groundout in the fifth plated Allie Zobel, who stole second and third before stretching the margin to 3-1.
Christy Calderwood's bloop single to right field brought in one more insurance run in the sixth. Knoop helped her cause with a single and stole second before courtesy runner Sammy Watson scored to push the lead to three.
Knoop earned the win allowing three runs (two earned) on four hits while fanning four and walking three in seven frames.
Mathews allowed four runs on eight hits, while striking out four and walking three in six innings.
Allie Zobel, Sam Zobel and Calderwood each brought in a run for North Tama, while Knoop tallied the Redhawks' lone extra base hit with a double.
Ackerman drove in a run, while Erin Stoner, Itzen and Mathews also singled for the Spartans (2-9).
Grundy Center will compete in the North Butler Tournament Saturday, while North Tama hosts Class 1A No. 1 ranked Don Bosco Tuesday. The Dons defeated the Redhawks 12-0 on June 3 in Gilbertville.
And after dropping three games to the Dons a year ago, the Redhawks are excited for another opportunity against their rival.
"There's nothing to lose," Cue said of Tuesday's game.
"Anytime you're playing the No. 1 team they're supposed to win. We want to hang around and have a chance to win at the end."
Two of North Tama's three losses have come against Class 1A's top-ranked Don Bosco and No. 5 Lisbon, while the Redhawks lost to Dunkerton 15-6 at home Wednesday night.
North Tama earned a ranked win over No. 12 Janesville earlier this season. ... Through Tuesday, North Tama led the league in batting average (.444), slugging percentage (.598), on-base percentage (.560), runs (133), hits (127), RBI (128), walks (73) and stolen bases (64). ... Redhawk sophomore Sarah Howard entered Thursday as the Iowa Star Conference's leader in hits (23), on base percentage (.683), slugging percentage (.861) and batting average (.639). ... North Tama senior Emma Knoop is second in the Iowa Star in ERA (1.86). ... Grundy Center hosts South Tama County Monday. The Trojans won the previous meeting 7-6 on May 31 in Tama.