WEBSTER CITY - Jess Howard knows her 12th-ranked Webster City softball team needs to walk before it can run.
Thinking about a potential showdown with fifth-ranked and defending state champion Ballard on Saturday, or what it would be like to qualify for the state tournament for the first time in 12 years couldn't be farther from the coach's mind.
It's first things first and that's how it's going to stay.
DFJ photo by Troy Banning
Webster City left fielder Allie Flaws, front, makes a nice blind catch while her eyes are shielded by the glove of center fielder Kaylee Schnathorst in an 8-0 win over Algona on June 25 at Lynx Field in Webster City. The 12th-ranked Lynx take a 24-6 record into tonight’s Class 4A Region 2 semifinal game against Clear Lake.
WCHS (24-6) will begin its postseason journey tonight with a Class 4A Region 2 semifinal clash against Clear Lake (10-17) at Lynx Field. The first pitch is set for 7 p.m.
Waiting on the winner is Ballard, which will host the semifinal in Huxley.
The Lynx - winners of 10 straight games since their last loss way back on June 17 - blasted Clear Lake twice during the regular season, 13-0 in 3 innings on May 28 and 8-0 on June 6. But the Lions ended the regular season by winning three of their last four and four of their last six. Included in the surge was a 3-2 upset victory over No. 6-ranked (2A) Fort Dodge St. Edmond.
"Clear Lake seems to be playing the best softball they've played all season right now, so we can't take them lightly," Howard, the Lynx head coach, said. "We've got to come out strong offensively and play clean defense.
"(The players) all understand what the road to state is going to be like. But they also understand that it's one game at a time. It doesn't matter if you can compete against Ballard if you can't compete against Clear Lake."
The gaudy statistics from the two previous meetings fall squarely in the Lynx camp. Senior pitcher Kaitlyn Biere, a four-time all-stater, allowed just two hits and struck out 16 Lions in 10 innings. She'll step into the circle tonight - for the final time at Lynx Field, no less - with a 24-3 record and 1.00 earned run average on the season, not to mention 97 career victories. She's struck out 197 batters in 2013, an average of more than one per inning.
"Kaitlyn is just doing a great job of moving the ball around," Howard said. "Her ball is going down, it's curving and her change-up has been working really well."
Biere (.451 average), Mikaleh McCoy (.418), Kaylee Schnathorst (.375) and Allie Flaws (.351) lead the team offensively. Biere and Ballard's Kenzie Ihle share the 4A home run lead; both had 11. Biere has also driven in 31 runs.
But Schnathorst, McCoy and Flaws got the best of the Lions during the regular season. Schnathorst, a junior lead-off hitter, went 5-for-6 at the dish with two doubles, a triple, a home run and seven RBIs. McCoy was a combined 4-for-5 with two RBIs, while Flaws was 3-for-4 with four runs batted in.
And don't forget about the Lynx ability to change the course of a game with one swing of the bat. Their 25 home runs ranks them second in 4A, trailing leader Dallas Center-Grimes (26) by one.
Howard won't say it, but this is the Lynx best opportunity to reach state since the 2002 season when they brought back a majority of the 2001 squad that claimed the 2A state championship. If they play well, they have a chance to beat anyone.
"When we show up to play we're definitely a very strong team in the state, but you can't go off saying you are a good team and expect that to carry you through a game," Howard said. "If we can keep playing clean defense and stay aggressive offensively, we should be able to compete against any team we go up against."