Tuesday night belonged to the Bulldogs.
The eighth-ranked Ottumwa softball team punched a round-trip ticket to the Class 5A State Tournament with a hard-fought 5-4 victory over seventh-ranked Waukee in front of a jam-packed crowd at Huston Field.
“I’m thrilled for the girls,” veteran Ottumwa coach Frank Huston said.
The game ended rather appropriately, with Bulldog shortstop Paige Schreiner — playing her last game ever at Huston Field — running down a ground ball near the second base bag and whipping a throw to first baseman Nicole Peyton for the third and final out.
Indeed, Schreiner wrote the perfect ending to her five years of play at Huston Field, going 2-for-3 with two doubles and two RBI.
“That was my last game on this field,” she said after the game. “I wanted to win this more than anything I’ve ever wanted.”
The Bulldog shortstop said she had been struggling a little bit at the plate as of late, so she worked on her hitting with a friend before coming to the game. Apparently, the extra practice helped.
Following a minor celebration on the field, the girls shook hands with their opponents, listened to a speech from veteran coach Frank Huston and then went into full-time party mode. Teammates hugged, parents took pictures, fans offered congratulatory words and Huston got doused with a bucket of water.
The Bulldogs will open state tournament play on Tuesday next week, when Ottumwa (34-8) will take on ninth-ranked Iowa City West (36-6) at 5:30 p.m. on Diamond 2.
Ottumwa’s ace pitcher Mandi Moore provided further proof that she can pitch in big-time games by turning in another solid outing. While Moore couldn’t overpower the Warriors in the same way she has overpowered teams of lesser talent, she made good pitches and got clutch outs at key moments. And none were bigger than when she induced Waukee’s Shaye Witte to ground out to Schreiner with two outs and runners on first and second and Ottumwa clinging to a 5-4 lead.
The top of batting order provided the bulk of the offense for the Bulldogs. Ottumwa leadoff hitter Sammy Garrett, as she has done so many times this season, paced the Bulldogs’ offense with three hits. Indeed, it was Garrett who got things rolling for Ottumwa in the bottom of the first inning with a single. Two batters later, Schreiner ripped a scorching line drive over the glove of Abby Krantz in center field, which allowed Garrett to score from second.
Then cleanup hitter Katie Sammons lifted a shallow pop fly that careened off the glove of Warrior first baseman Miranda McCay, scoring Olivia Roark, who was hit by a pitch earlier in the inning; to give Ottumwa a 2-0 lead.
Waukee tacked on a run in the top of the second to narrow the gap to 2-1 after a soft liner to right field got past Chelsea Griffiths; allowing a run to score.
The Warriors elected to switch pitchers the next inning, replacing Mickelson with Kaitlyn Menz, a young pitcher with some real heat behind her pitches. Menz looked impressive in her first inning of work, striking out all three Ottumwa batters she faced.
The Bulldogs, however, proved they were more than capable of hitting the Warriors’ young pitcher in the bottom of the third.
Garrett once again served as the catalyst for her team by leading the inning off with her second single of the night. Next Roark, exploiting her lightning speed, safely reached first on an infield single. Then Schreiner again provided Ottumwa’s offense with some muscle by driving in Garrett with a line drive double down the right field line, upping Ottumwa’s lead to 3-1.
Waukee intentionally walked Sammons — the Bulldogs’ RBI and home run leader — to get to Ottumwa first baseman Nicole Peyton. Peyton, however, would make the Warriors pay for underestimating her by hitting a chopper over first baseman McCay’s head that drove in two runs and extended the Bulldogs’ lead to 5-1.
“It felt awesome,” Peyton said about her hit.
Huston has moved Peyton up to the No. 5 spot in the batting order in the last two games and he was well-compensated for his decision Tuesday.
A two-run blast by Haag whittled Ottumwa’s lead down to 5-3. The Warriors picked up another run in the top of the sixth to bring them within one. But that was as close as they would get.
The Bulldog defense was buoyed by some great plays by several players. And none were bigger or more important than Griffiths’s incredible leaping catch in the top of the seventh. Griffiths’s grab prevented what looked a like sure double and left the Bulldogs one out away from going to state.
“We were ready. We were excited for this game so we came out hard and played hard,” Peyton said.
“We put on a show and I love people watching us play because we’re good at what we do,” Schreiner said. “I’m extremely proud of my team and proud of the way we performed. And you know, we stayed together and I would not trade my teammates for anything.”
Ottumwa 5, Waukee 4
Wauk 010 200 0 — 4 9 1
Ottu 203 000 0 — 5 8 2
Waukee Team battery — Kylie Mickelson (L, 17-3) (1IP, 2H, 2R, 1ER, 0K, 0BB), Kaitlyn Menz (6IP, 6H, 3R, 3ER, 1BB, 6K) Tori Haag catching.
2B — Haag, Kylie Mickelson
HR — Haag.
Hits — Haag 3-for-3, Mickelson 1-for-3, Miranda McCay 1-for-4, Nicole Tennant 1-for-3, Abby Krantz 2-for-3, Maddie McLaughlin 1-for-3.
RBI — McCay 2. Runs — Claire Dudek, Haag, McCay.
Ottumwa battery — Mandi Moore (W, 19-5) (6IP, 9H, 3R, 2ER, 1K, 1BB), Beth Overturf catching.
2B — Paige Schreiner 2.
Hits — Schreiner 2-for-3, Sammy Garrett 3-for-4, Olivia Roark 2-for-3, Sydney 1-for-2, Nicole Peyton 1-for-3.
RBI — Schreiner 2, Peyton 2. Runs — Garrett 2, Olivia Roark 2, Schreiner.
CLASS 5A STATE SOFTBALL TOURNAMENT
At Rogers Sports Complex, Fort Dodge
No. 8 Ottumwa (34-8) vs. No. 9 Iowa City West (36-6), 5:30 p.m.