By Steve Peterson
Akron-Westfield’s storied softball program added another number to the State Champions sign in both communities.
Dozens of residents welcomed the newly crowned Class 1A State Champions back following a 5-4 win in the championship game against New London July 26. A-W Head Coach Todd Colt praised the community support, calling it “second to none.”
“One word sums up this team, ‘wow’. It doesn’t matter how you spell it and upside down its ‘mom’,” said Colt.
A-W, aka the “We’re Back” team made a return to state memorable with the state trophy team gathering in short center field. The grand total is 10 state tournament trips in 11 years.
“What a way to spend a vacation. It does not get any better than this. You’re a class act. Thanks to the parents for their commitment and their support for their daughters and thanks to the fans who come out to all these games and support the team. Most of all thanks to the players for their hard work and endless hours of practice. It paid off,” said A-W School Board member Jodi Thompson at the A-W event July 26. She gave out Iowa State Champion plaques. Players also got tournament softballs and tags.
The title, in improbable comeback fashion on a windy and chilly Friday morning in Fort Dodge, aka Akron East, adds 2013 to previous championships won in 2005, 2006, 2010 and 2011.
A-W Junior standout pitcher Kayla Tindall won the coveted Captain Award for Class 1A All-Tournament while eighth grader Bailey Davis and junior Dana Hedlund also won First Team awards.
“Those are all individual awards but you don’t get those without a great team. The greatest strength of this team is its team unity. One example of that was I was going to tell the team of a time for a team meeting. I found all 18 of them in the same room watching a movie. The upperclassmen were also quizzing the underclassmen about what to do in certain situations,” said Colt.
“I showed them the videotape of our championship game in 2005, 2006, and our team said, ‘those girls could do it, why not us’, but not in the same way,” said Colt.
“Different kids have stepped it up in different games. Ryleigh Schnell makes a great play against Janesville, without which we would not be playing in the championship game today (the catch was in the a 9-7 win against Janesville). Bethany Eastman makes a key play on a ground ball at first base. Katie Johnson makes a great catch in right field that could have gone for a double or triple against Don Bosco (a 1-0 A-W win). The first game of the state tournament we played cautiously; the rest of the way we played recklessly. When Desi Oltmanns scored the only run against Don Bosco, I later asked her why she ran. Her helmet goes flying one way and her body went flying another. She said, ‘because the catcher dropped the ball and I wanted to be reckless’,” said Colt. “Kayla Tindall had her best pitching performance of the season against Don Bosco. Dana Hedlund at second base made some big plays. Davis at third base made some big plays and had a hot bat; Dana Hedlund and Sarah Schroeder and Haley Coyle had hot bats; Kortney Hedlund made some big plays at shortstop. You never know who will step up. They defined ‘team’ as well as anybody else.”
Eighth grader Danika Tindall served as a pinch runner; Jessica Hansen was also a pinch runner; freshmen Sam Johnson and Trisha Frerichs were used as pinch runners; and Hannah Boehme gave great dugout support and Schnell “had the biggest smile,” said Colt.
Colt thanked many behind-the-scenes who make the state tournament experience go well, from assistant coaches Rachel Harris (who gave great information on opponent’s batters to lead to the pitch selection); to long-time Kent Johnson; to Brandi Davis, a 2012 alumnus who pitches batting practice.
“We knew we had to cut down our strikeouts against their pitcher (Morgan Cristner) who was No. 1 in the class in strikeouts (360),” said Colt of the strategy. But A-W, as always in tournaments the visitor, had a few looking strikes, “not our brand of softball. But we got better as the game went on. The offense helped pick up the defense. We could tell in the later innings we had momentum and got the runs back one at a time. Once we had it tied we felt we could win it in extra innings,” said Colt.
A-W had to overcome some huge obstacles of a four-run, just one hit, five errors and two wild pitch second inning that sent the Tigers (32-10). It stayed that way until the fifth inning and it looked like the Lady Westerners, ranked No. 1 in the Class 1A, would be the Tigers’ latest upset victim.
Then we went with a curve outside (the strike zone),” said Colt of the final strikeout, Kayla Tindall’s sixth on a three-hitter.
“All of them are special,” said Colt of the Lady Westerners’ five titles. “But especially this one because of the uniqueness,” said Colt amid the celebration.
A-W got two fire department escorts, at the Plymouth County Fair, “the girls really enjoyed it,” said Colt; and from Iowa Highway 3 on top Akron Fire Department fire trucks.
Some humourous tales from Fort Dodge were told Friday evening, mostly for “insider material” but it was a fun week for all connected with A-W.