THUMBS-UP

Lynx stay perfect in NCC behind Kasch HR

Webster City sophomore clean-up hitter Leah Kasch celebrates her two-run home run to straightaway center field in the first inning against Fort Dodge St. Edmond at Lynx Field Wednesday night. Kasch’s second dinger of the season gave WCHS a 2-0 lead and it went on to knock off the Gaels, 3-1. DFJ photo/Tracy Runneberg

WEBSTER CITY — The Webster City softball team got quite adept at being the counter puncher in its opening three North Central Conference games. But the Lynx changed tactics and became the aggressors Wednesday night at Lynx Field.

The result didn’t change.

WCHS threw 12th-ranked (Class 1A) St. Edmond back on its heels with two runs in the first inning and never trailed in a 3-1 victory in front of the home fans. The Lynx (7-2, 4-0 NCC) won for the fifth consecutive time and remained unbeaten in the league alongside second-ranked (Class 3A) Humboldt.

Head coach Jess Howard’s club is off to its best overall start since the 2013 and 2014 seasons when it also won seven of its first nine games. The 4-0 NCC start matches how the Lynx began in 2016.

“The girls are showing that they have a lot of experience and they’re playing very sound,” Howard said following the win over the Gaels. “(Wednesday night) we pushed runs across early and that made (St. Edmond) play panicked and it allowed us to play relaxed.”

Webster City senior Atlanta Hopp connects with a pitch against St. Edmond on Wednesday. The Lynx won the NCC tilt, 3-1. DFJ photo/Tracy Runneberg

Kelly Stoakes sent the early message to St. Edmond pitcher Ella Vratny with a lead-off smash to center field for a double in the first inning. Stoakes, who is hitting .697 on the season, didn’t score, but Howard said the hit was enough.

“Stoakes started off with a nice shot to center … it built confidence in the rest of our hitters,” she said.

Leah Kasch was watching, that’s for sure. Three batters later, the Lynx clean-up hitter took a Vratny offering and sent it out of the park in straightaway center field for a two-run home run that put WCHS in the driver’s seat.

It was Kasch’s second dinger of the season, which tied Stoakes for the team lead.

“Kasch came through with a big two-out hit,” Howard said. “The girls stayed focused and did what they had to do.”

WCHS expanded its lead to 3-0 in the third inning on another two-out hit, this time off the bat of Taylor McKinney. Her single brought Alayna Finucan — aboard with a lead-off base knock, one of two on the night for the freshman — to the plate.

Vratny limited WCHS to just the five hits, but all came at critical moments in the game.

The three runs were enough for Lynx sophomore hurler Jenna Miller, who lowered her ERA to 2.56 overall and 2.00 in the conference with a three-hit gem. Miller struck out three and walked just one.

“She looked great on the mound,” Howard said of Miller. “She was hitting her spots and she was giving us those inside-outside pitches that got us a lot of slow rollers or easy ground-ball outs.”

Erin Flattery, Jocy Timmerman and Jacque Oberg all roped singles for St. Edmond (4-5, 2-2 NCC). The Gaels plated their lone run — it was unearned — in the sixth. They had runners at first and second with two outs when Miller got Macey Mason to bounce out to second baseman Atlanta Hopp.

Howard knows every night is going to be a battle inside the NCC, and she also knows WCHS cannot afford any missteps if it’s going to stay within striking distance of Humboldt, which is the overwhelming favorite to win its fourth consecutive league crown.

“Whatever team comes out on top in the conference this year, they’re going to have to play solid every single outing because every team has experience,” she said. “Coming out poised and playing with confidence each time is going to be huge for us.”

WCHS will step away from the conference for a few days, starting this evening when it will welcome second-ranked (4A) Carlisle to Lynx Field at 7:15 p.m. On Saturday, Howard’s crew will host the Lynx Invite where WCHS will play West Marshall at 11 a.m. and Martensdale-St. Marys at 3 p.m.

Webster City 3, St. Edmond 1

Wednesday at Webster City

St. Edmond 000 001 0 — 1 3 0

Web City 201 000 x — 3 5 2

Ella Vratny and Kacey Kruthoff. Jenna Miller and Kaitlynn Seeley. WP — Miller. LP — Vratny. Multiple hits — WC: Alayna Finucan. 2B — WC: Kelly Stoakes. HR — WC: Leah Kasch. RBI — WC: Kasch (2), Taylor McKinney.

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