The South Tama County softball program has never enjoyed a winning season in its history.
And even though that goal won't be reached again this year, the Trojans found success Friday after their 5-4 win over West Marshall secured them fourth place in the North Iowa Cedar League West Division.
"We talked about a fourth place or better conference finish at the beginning of the year and if we got fourth place in the conference I was going to be ecstatic," South Tama County coach Chelsea Ahrens said. "There are three ranked teams ahead of us, so I am satisfied with that. We probably could have had more wins in the conference, but I am happy with that placing."
T-R PHOTO BY TROY HYDE
South Tama County senior catcher Riley Craun fires to first base to record an out during the Trojans’ 5-4 win over West Marshall on Friday night in Tama. Craun had two doubles at the plate for STC, which secured fourth place in the final NICL West Division standings with the win.
The win Friday against West Marshall came after South Tama scored four runs in the fifth inning to take the lead for good and also spoiled West Marshall's Senior Night for McKenna Hotopp and Shelby Tichy.
"We finally won a close game," said Ahrens, whose team finished NICL West play with a 6-8 record. "It seems like every close game this year has not gone our way. Sometimes we make a key error defensively and can't withstand a lead. Sometimes they maybe get Sam (Holtz's) timing down. I don't know what it is. We were able to lock it in tonight."
Holtz pitched into the sixth inning against West Marshall and allowed three earned runs before freshman Kallie Hala recorded the final six outs for the save. STC had three errors in the game but made keys plays when the game was on the line, which helped end a recent losing skid.
"I am a very competitive person. It bothers me when we lose because I see how good we are sometimes," STC senior Riley Craun said. "My mindset tonight was 'I am ready to win and I don't want to lose to them again.' We had a lot of motivation tonight too playing for fourth place."
After enduring a 15-game losing streak earlier this year, West Marshall put itself back in the conversation for an upper-half finish in the NICL West because of seven wins in its last 11 games coming into Friday.
The home Trojans led 3-1 heading into the fifth inning but couldn't rally in their final three at-bats after South Tama took the lead with the four-run fifth frame.
"We had control of the game for the most part. We had one bad inning," West Marshall coach Jordan Bentley said. "The games we have lost have been close, but lately it's been because of one poor inning. That is what happened tonight."
West Marshall (8-22, 5-9) scored the first run of the game off two STC errors in the second inning.
Craun's double with one out in the third allowed STC to tie the game after she came around to score on an error.
Hotopp, who was honored with Tichy before the game, gave West Marshall another lead in the third as she plated Sadie Simatovich with an RBI double that hit the right-center field fence in the air.
Tichy then came through with an RBI groundout in the fourth to put the Trojans up 3-1. Blair Bailey and Rachel Freland both singled while Samie Simotavich walked to set up the run. Holtz got out of the jam with two big outs to end the inning.
And then the junior hurler helped herself at the plate in the top of the fifth inning. Craun began the inning with another double and then Tori Appelgate singled. Jade Rohach reached on an error that scored Craun and Holtz's two-run single gave STC (10-20) its first lead of the contest. Dani Stubbs added an RBI groundout to make it 5-3.
"Once we get the hits going, we get confidence," Craun said. "The hits just kept coming. The other team will make plays. We just needed to keep going, keep playing. The one-run lead kept us focused. We dug deep and made things happen."
Holtz walked Shelby Larsen and Hotopp to begin the bottom of the fifth and West Marshall trimmed its deficit to 5-4 after Blair Bailey's RBI infield single. Another walk to Freland loaded the bases but Holtz got out of the jam with a ground out to second base.
Ahrens pulled Holtz (9-12) after a lead-off walk to Tichy in the sixth. Hala got the final six outs of the game and did not allow a base runner for the save.
"Part of the win tonight was because I was able to pull the trigger on Sam and get Kallie in there," Ahrens said. "They had gotten Sam's timing down and she struggled a bit with the zone."
Both Ahrens and Bentley expressed their approval of finishing so high in the conference this season. South Tama County has moved in the right direction all season and lost several close games, while West Marshall has battled several injuries and has been forced to use several young players as well.
"We've had a handful of games that could have gone either way," Ahrens said. "We just want to get better every game and get better every year. We are putting in the time and it is starting to work out for us."
West Marshall lost Karis Gibbs to an ankle injury in Wednesday's game against South Tama. Bentley was relieved he was able to get through a game without an injury Friday. He said hard work and positive attitudes played a role in the turnaround this season.
"We just kept working hard. The kids stayed positive. We were able to get on a winning streak against some good teams," Bentley said. "To work our way back into fourth place in this conference was huge. This a tough league. You are playing someone ranked or someone who could be ranked every night."
Freland (2-12) took the loss for West Marshall in the circle. Three of the five runs were earned and she allowed seven hits and struck out four while walking none. Bailey had three hits at the plate to lead the West Marshall offense.
West Marshall beat South Tama 8-7 Wednesday in Tama. ... Hotopp expressed disappointment in not being able to play for Jeff Lamb next season at MCC. Lamb recently took the head coaching job at Clarke University in Dubuque. "I was looking forward to playing for him," Hotopp said after the game Friday. "He is a fun coach and someone I would have loved to play for." ... Bentley said Hotopp and Tichy will definitely be missed. "Those two girls have been around the program for five years," Bentley said. "Hotopp will play anywhere I put her and she has been moved around a lot. Shelby Tichy is one of the hardest working kids on the team. She is a good role model and a great leader." Hotopp started her career in the outfield and has also played shortstop and pitcher. Friday, she was in the lineup at second base for the first time in her high school career. ... STC and West Marshall each stranded seven runners on base, combined for 13 hits and seven errors.