East Marshall softball is seeing fruits of offseason labor in batting cage

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE - The East Marshall softball team has been doing “yard work” all season long, as the Mustangs have amassed 29 home runs via seven different hitters on their way to the Iowa Girls High School State Softball Tournament in Fort Dodge next week. East Marshall’s home runs have come from (from row, from left) Hannah Birks and Melinda Puumala; back row: Juliana Arifi, Kodie Hoskey, Madison Farrington, Reagan McIlrath and Maria Rasmusson.

LE GRAND — The act of hitting a home run has many colloquialisms.

The East Marshall softball team has granted its fans the opportunity to use all of them this summer.

Whether they’re doing yard work, going yard, leaving the yard, or hitting bombs, moonshots or no-doubters, the Mustangs have made hitting home runs — or whatever you call them — a regular part of their routine this season.

It’s become a trademark of any East Marshall softball team that has made it to state, and this year’s squad falls right in line with the numbers.

As the fifth-ranked Mustangs prepare for the Class 2A portion of the Iowa Girls High School State Softball Tournament, they have the statistics to support their beliefs that all the work they put in during the offseason and in past seasons is starting to show — sometimes four bases at a time.

T-R FILE PHOTO - East Marshall senior Madison Farrington puts bat to ball for her first of two home runs during Monday’s Class 2A Region 1 final victory over Jesup, a 14-1, five-inning outcome in Jesup. Farrington leads East Marshall’s hit parade this season with 13 home runs and a new school record 64 RBIs.

Senior catcher Madison Farrington leads the East Marshall barrage with 13 home runs and a new school record 64 runs batted in so far this season. She’s one round-tripper shy of matching Katie Roseland’s single-season and career home run records, too, but isn’t worried about when or how often the four-baggers arrive.

Hitting the ball hard is a priority in Le Grand, and these Mustangs have excelled at it. The team boasts a collective .358 batting average with 67 doubles and 29 home runs in 35 games.

Seven different players have homered for East Marshall (31-4) heading into the state tournament. The Mustangs are the No. 2 seed and will meet No. 7 seed Ogden (25-7) in Monday’s 5 p.m. quarterfinal on the Kruger Seeds Field at Rogers Sports Complex in Fort Dodge.

“Home runs are a lot of fun because you get to run around the bases and celebrate with your team at home plate, but it’s not everything,” said Farrington, who ranks 11th in Iowa and third in 2A with her 13 home runs. “There’s a lot of other good hits you can get that can score a lot of runs. I think it’s awesome that seven of our players have hit it because we can show our opponents that anyone can hit it on any day — you just don’t know who it will be.”

So far this year it has been Farrington (13), Juliana Arifi (4), Reagan McIlrath (4), Hannah Birks (3), Maria Rasmusson (2), Kodie Hoskey (2) and Melinda Puumala (1). Yep, that’s right. Even Puumala, the team’s speedy leadoff batter and occasional slap-hitter, popped one out of the park during a win over Kee Community at the Don Bosco Tournament in Gilbertville.

T-R FILE PHOTO

“It puts pressure on their pitcher, she can’t take a batter off regardless of whoever is up,” said East Marshall head coach Jary Hoskey. “Their pitcher’s got to worry about 1-through-9 and that puts a lot of pressure on them.”

To this point it’s only been 1-through-7, but senior Kayla Mommer has shown the power potential, too.

“We’ve put in a lot of work with offseason hitting,” said Birks. “It’s not required or anything, we just all want to be there. And we hit before games and sometimes on weekends. We’ve just put a lot of time into trying to make us better, and it really shows in the games.”

Regardless of where you’re at facing the Mustang batting order, you’d better be on high alert.

The bottom half of East Marshall’s batting order proved its potency in its regional semifinal win over Colfax-Mingo, when Hannah Birks started the Mustangs’ comeback in the bottom of the seventh inning with a leadoff single. Hoskey doubled to left, Mommer got a run home with a grounder to first and Emma Pfantz reached on a single. One out later, Rasmusson ripped a single through the middle that climbed up the center fielder’s glove and escaped long enough for Pfantz and Madison Duncan to score the tying and go-ahead runs in a rousing 3-2 victory.

In the game to get to state, each East Marshall batter had at least one hit in a 14-1, five-inning drubbing of Jesup. Farrington went oppo-taco (hit a home run to the opposite field) for her first of two home runs in the game, helping the Mustangs clinch their first state tournament berth since 2014.

That was also the last time East Marshall had at least 24 home runs as a team. When the Mustangs made it to state three years in a row from 2012 to 2014, they closed those campaigns with 31, 26 and 24 home runs.

“Up and down the lineup, this probably could be one of the best hitting teams we’ve had,” coach Hoskey said. “Take away nothing from the three [state teams] before, but we move the ball 1-through-9.

“We beat an awful good Colfax-Mingo team, and to win that in the fashion that we did — down 2-0 in the bottom of the seventh — we won it with the younger lineup, the bottom of the lineup.

The rest of the 2A state tournament field belongs in the same boat. Third-seeded Central Springs (28-7) leads all of 2A and is fourth in the state with 45 home runs, and top-seeded North Linn (39-4) is second in 2A with 32 tank shots. The Mustangs’ first-round opponent — Ogden (25-7) — is fourth in 2A with 27 bombs, although 20 of them belong to one player alone.

Ogden junior Denali Loecker, a University of Iowa commit, has 20 homers of her own. She leads the state in that department, as well as walks (52).

Home runs or not, East Marshall just wants to make it a three-game week in Fort Dodge. Winning the first round is the only way that can happen.

“We have a strong offense and everybody knows that,” said McIlrath, a junior. “We talk about [the home runs] after games, but we don’t really talk about it before. It’s a good thing, but we don’t really talk about it.”

“We get the bat on the ball and wherever it goes it just goes,” Kodie Hoskey said. “That’s our main thing.”

Every now and then, it even leaves the yard.