PELLA – The pitch was a riseball and it was to be spotted inside on the hands.
Was it a bad pitch? Nope, not at all. Was it the wrong call? Again, nope.
But, sometimes, even the best execution at the right time isn’t enough. Sometimes, the batter simply wins the battle.
And that’s one of the reasons why South Hamilton saw its season come to a close Friday night.
Pella Christian clean-up hitter Natalie Vos took that riseball over the inside corner from Katie Johnson and parked it over the fence in center field for a two-run home run in the bottom of the fourth inning, and that was all the offense the ninth-ranked Eagles needed to dispose of South Hamilton, 4-0, in a Class 2A Region 5 semifinal.
Pella Christian added a pair of unearned insurance runs in the sixth, but the contest essentially ended when Vos’s sixth long ball of the season just skirted over the fence.
“Do you want to call that a bad pitch? OK, she hit a home run, so you could say that, but (Johnson) threw it where she needed to throw it,” South Hamilton head coach Rusty Wintermote said. “The girl was tall enough and strong enough and she just went in and got it.”
It was the first hit of the game for the Eagles (21-9), who only connected for one more – a weakly hit blooper into center by Chloe Dembski in the sixth inning. Otherwise, Johnson was in control. She sat Pella Christian down on just three pitches in the first inning and had faced the minimum number of batters through three frames.
“She threw really well,” South Hamilton catcher Alyssa Hegland said of Johnson, who didn’t walk or strikeout a single batter. “(The home run) was a riseball inside and that was my bad, I should have called it outside.”
But South Hamilton (19-12) didn’t tumble out of the postseason because of one pitch. It was the missed opportunities in the first, second and fourth innings that, ultimately, led to the downfall.
The Hawks finished with four hits, two of them doubles, and had numerous opportunities to jump ahead early on. But they were never able to come up with the key hit with runners in scoring position.
They left seven runners stranded in all, four of them in scoring position.
“We couldn’t get the hit when we needed it,” Wintermote said. “We had our opportunities, we just didn’t capitalize like we’ve been able to.”
Taylor Volkmann led-off the game and reached on an error. She eventually shuffled all the way to third before the threat fizzled out.
Ronnie Olson belted a one-out double into the gap in right-center in the second, but never went any further.
Breanne Diersen opened the fourth with her own gap shot into right-center for a double and South Hamilton eventually loaded the bases. But, again, Pella Christian pitcher Emma Schnell managed to wiggle her way out of danger.
Relying on her riseball and deceptively nasty change-up, Schnell struck out eight batters. She retired nine of the final 10 batters she faced after the Eagles moved in front.
“(Schnell) did a super job of keeping us off guard,” Wintermote said. “The timing just wasn’t there for us.”
Ady Wintermote added a bloop single to right in the third inning and Chloe Barkema lashed a line-drive base hit up the middle in the sixth.
Vos added a third RBI on a deep sacrifice fly to center field in the sixth inning. It followed a pair of South Hamilton throwing errors that allowed the Eagles’ third run of the game to cross the plate.
It was a bitter ending to a solid season for the Hawks, primarily because they were forced to say goodbye to Hegland, the team leader and lone senior on the squad. Every teammate waited patiently to give her a hug afterwards and it eventually spilled into a team hug with Hegland in the middle.
“I didn’t feel it until the end, until the last out, because I thought we could make a comeback,” Hegland said as tears traveled down her cheeks. “But I thought we had a great season and we have team bonding like crazy.”
Rusty Wintermote, in his first year back in charge, says he’ll miss Hegland greatly.
“For my first year back, I couldn’t ask for a better senior to help me out,” he said. “She was the glue that brought everybody together.”
South Hamilton has the pieces to be even better next season, as every other starter will return including the team’s three pitchers – Johnson, Volkmann and Ady Wintermote.
“We will be very competitive again next year,” Rusty Wintermote said. “We’ll get stronger and we’ll get better and we’ll have another opportunity.”
Pella Christian will head to Iowa City tonight to face seventh-ranked and reigning state champion Iowa City Regina (25-16) for the right to advance to next week’s state tournament in Fort Dodge.