Cougars cruise back to state

Barrick throws a no-no as No. 4 AGWSR blows past No. 10 Fort Dodge St. Edmond

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE - AGWSR third baseman Josie Winterberg (16) leaps into the arms of pitcher Taryan Barrick as first baseman Rachel Sicard, left, rushes to join the celebration after the Cougars defeated Fort Dodge St. Edmond 9-0 in Monday's Class 1A Region 2 title game in Ackley.

ACKLEY — That it ended with a strikeout should surprise nobody.

That it wrapped up a no-hitter? Not that astonishing.

The way AGWSR junior Taryan Barrick is pitching, anything is possible.

Barrick struck out 15 while twirling her third no-hitter of the season and the fourth-ranked AGWSR softball team hammered No. 10 Fort Dodge St. Edmond 9-0 to win Monday’s Class 1A Region 2 final and advance to next week’s state tournament for the first time since 2015.

The Cougars (26-7) made the only six defensive plays they had to behind Barrick (25-5), the state’s strikeout leader, and backed her with five runs in the bottom of the first inning. Back-to-back doubles by Rachel Sicard and Josie Winterberg helped make it a 3-0 AGWSR advantage before Taylor Sperfslage launched her third home run of the season for a five-run lead.

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE - AGWSR's Carrinton Hunt, left, and Taryan Barrick race to retrieve the Class 1A state softball qualifier banner after the No. 4 Cougars defeated No. 10 Fort Dodge St. Edmond in Monday's regional final in Ackley.

When the girl standing in the circle has allowed more than four runs only twice all season, you’ve got to like your odds.

“With Taryan, the way she’s been pitching, when we had five runs on the board in the first inning you knew it was going to be awful tough for them to come back,” said AGWSR co-head coach Brenda Drake, “but you always want to, every inning, put the score up on there and we actually wanted to get that 10th run.”

Getting halfway there in the first at-bat proved to be more than the Gaels could contend with. The only flaw on Barrick’s ledger was a second-inning walk to Jacque Oberg, but she advanced no farther than the free base she was issued.

Barrick finished with 15 strikeouts for the second-straight regional game — 12 swinging and three looking — and got the offensive run support she needed to relax after throwing the first pitch of the game to the backstop.

“That definitely settled my nerves down,” said Barrick, who allowed just four hits in three regional games combined. “My confidence was way up and I didn’t have to worry about getting my pitches right where I needed to all the time.

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE - AGWSR softball players share in the celebration after beating Fort Dodge St. Edmond to advance to the state tournament for the first time since the Cougars won it all in 2015.

“Our lineup is hit-and-miss once in a while and we all know it, but we know we’re strong hitters when we need to be. It feels great. Last year we were so close to doing it but didn’t have the power to get the runs we needed.”

Five runs in the first inning was more than enough. MaKenna Kuper was hit on the forearm by Ella Vratny’s second offering of the game, and Ali Gerbracht reached safely when her bunt was misplayed. One out later, Sicard doubled in both runners and Winterberg traded places with Sicard with a double of her own.

Sperfslage followed with a home run down the left-field line that narrowly escaped the reach of Fort Dodge St. Edmond left fielder Macey Mason.

And as if the five runs weren’t enough, AGWSR kept piling on.

Barrick led off the third inning with a single to left and her courtesy runner Haley Bakker eventually scored on a sacrifice fly by Sperfslage to make it 6-0.

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE - AGWSR's Taylor Sperfslage (13) is greeted at home plate by her teammates after hitting a two-run home run during the first inning of Monday's regional softball final in Ackley. Sperfslage's third home run of the season gave the Cougars an early 5-0 lead.

Sammy deNeui slapped a one-out single through the middle in the sixth, and her pinch-runner Haileigh Homeyer got to trot the rest of the way as Kuper clubbed her team-leading ninth homer of the season to make it 8-0.

Barrick kept the inning alive with a triple to deep center field, and Bakker scored in her place on Winterberg’s blooper to left for the 9-0 final.

The outcome had long since been decided by the time Barrick struck out Erin Flattery for the first out and Mason for the final out.

“It feels great, it always feels great,” said Cougars co-coach Scott O’Brien. “You always think you’re going to get there but you need to cherish it when you do because you just never know. Things like last year happen.”

A 3-2 defeat at home against Belle Plaine in last year’s regional finals weighed on the Cougars’ minds as they made their way through the postseason bracket.

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE

“Looking back at last year, we just looked past it way too far and didn’t pay attention to the game we needed to,” said Barrick. “[Beating East Marshall for the NICL West Division title] definitely got our minds set. We knew from that moment we could have a chance in the regionals and we proved it. We have a good team and a good, positive attitude and have fun in moments too, and that’s what counts.”

AGWSR made three-straight trips to state from 2013-2015, placing third, third and first in respective tournaments. Fort Dodge St. Edmond (20-9) was trying for its first state tournament appearance since 2015 as well, but Vratny was just what the Cougars’ bats ordered.

AGWSR finished with eight hits — five for extra bases — and cashed in on three walks and two hit batters (Kuper twice). Vratny struck out three in the Gaels’ season-ending defeat.

“We’ve been waiting for a pitcher to pitch a little bit faster than what we’ve been seeing,” said Drake, “and having three games like this that were about the same speed — [Vratny] was a little quicker — that really helped.

“We wanted to come out and score that first inning and boy we did. We wanted to set the tone and get them on their heels to begin with and that makes Taryan’s like a lot easier too, keeps her calm and she’s got that lead to work with.”

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE

The third no-hitter of the summer was also the 11th shutout for Barrick, who has won eight-straight starts dating back to a loss to 3A state qualifier Roland-Story on June 23 in Roland. Since then, Barrick has allowed a grand total of 12 hits and no runs in 52 scoreless innings, walking eight while striking out 114.

“We’re almost unbeatable with five runs,” said O’Brien. “[Fort Dodge St. Edmond] just doesn’t see that kind of pitching, not too many teams do. You’ve got to be up in the 4A-5A level to see this kind of pitching on a regular basis. Against 1A, she’s going to be pretty tough.”

The win over 3A No. 13 East Marshall to clinch the conference championship was something Barrick’s catcher, Gerbracht, pointed to as a driving force too.

“We really knew we could do something because we hadn’t won conference in like forever,” she said, “and we finally won conference and we can go and get it now.”

AGWSR will play the last of four first-round games in the 1A bracket next Monday, July 16, at Harlan Rogers Park in Fort Dodge. The Cougars are seeded third and will face sixth-seeded Janesville (26-11) at 1:30 p.m. on Diamond 2.

The two teams did not meet this season.

“After last year [state] was right there and we couldn’t quite do it, we weren’t going to let that happen this year,” said Drake.

AGWSR 9, Fort Dodge St. Edmond 0

At Ackley

FDSE 000 000 0 — 0 0 2

AGWSR 501 003 X — 9 8 0

Ella Vratny and Kacey Krathoff; Taryan Barrick and Ali Gerbracht. W–Barrick (25-5). L–Vratny (19-8). 2B–AGWSR: Rachel Sicard, Josie Winterberg. 3B–AGWSR: Barrick. HR–AGWSR: Taylor Sperfslage (3), MaKenna Kuper (9). LOB–FDSE 1, AGWSR 6.