OTTUMWA — Clarke junior left fielder Kennedy Crees sent a raucous Clarke crowd into absolute pandemonium here Monday night when she slapped a walkoff single over the shortstop’s head in the bottom of the seventh inning, giving the Lady Indians a 3-2 win over Class 3A No. 2 West Burlington Notre Dame.
“Holy smokes! That was so amazing,” Clarke head softball coach Lindsay Diehl said. “I couldn’t be more proud to call that group of kids my kids.”
The Lady Indians entered the bottom of the seventh inning of the Class 3A Region 6 finals trailing 2-1 and needed a rally to earn the school’s second-ever state tournament berth. The only other state trip resulted in a state championship in 1995.
Clarke, ranked 11th in Class 3A, started the seventh inning in the six-spot in the lineup with senior Ashley Gibbs. Gibbs, who had grounded out twice in the game already, worked a 3-2 count before ripping one up the middle for a single.
First baseman Devon Carson, one of the most dangerous hitters in the Clarke lineup, followed with a single of her own up the middle. Sophomore catcher Kassidy Spurgin fell behind in the count 0-2 before battling back to draw a walk, loading the bases.
Freshman Amanda Kindred grounded an 0-1 pitch to the second baseman, who fired home in an attempt to get Gibbs at the plate, but the throw was late, allowing the tying run to score.
That brought up eighth-grader Vanessa Bakley in a big spot with an opportunity to end the game as the bases were loaded.
Bakley worked a 3-2 count before smoking a liner down the third base line. But, it was snagged in the air by the third baseman, who stepped on third base for a double play and looked to second to see if the inning-ending triple play was available.
That left runners on first and second with two outs and Crees, the junior slap-hitting left fielder, coming to bat.
Crees came to the plate already 1-for-2 on the night with a slap single over the third baseman’s head in the first inning.
“I was really nervous,” Crees said. “I was just thinking the whole time, ‘get a base hit and everything will be all right. We have big hitters coming up.’”
She quickly fell behind 0-1 in the count, and then slapped the ball to the left side, over the head of the shortstop and into the gap in left center.
“I wasn’t even thinking about going to first,” Crees said. “I started freaking out. I was just paying attention to her (eighth grader Sydnee Redman) scoring, so it was really exciting. I was freaking out. I started jumping up and down.”
“You wouldn’t expect a kid who weighs 80 pounds up at the plate to hit a ball out there where she did,” Diehl said. “She deserves it. She’s worked so hard. She has a little bit of a cockiness, but she just owns that batter’s box. She has all the confidence in the world that she thinks she’s as big as a Sarah Pate, when she’s a tiny little package. But I love that about her, because she knows she’s good.”
Diehl said she was waving Redman around the whole way when Crees made contact.
“I was sending her all day,” she said. “We’re tie ball game, I’m sending her all day and making them make a great play to throw her out at the plate. I was actually jumping up and down as Sydnee rounded third, because I knew the ball had slipped through the outfield and we were going to score the winning run.”
Redman said she was prepared for a play at the plate.
“First, I had to duck from Kennedy’s ball that was a line drive over short’s head, but when coach was waving me in, I thought they were going to throw it in,” she said. “So I thought I had to get down. But, it was crazy. I was nervous.”
Clarke found itself in need of a rally after falling behind 2-0 in the top of the sixth inning.
A close play at first base that could have gone either way resulted in leadoff batter Kori Mesecher reaching base, extending the inning to six-hitter Raegan Olson.
Bemis made one mistake all game, and it came on the first pitch to Olson.
Olson blasted the ball over the left field fence for a two-run homer, putting the Lady Falcons on top 2-0. It was one of only two balls that left the infield against Bemis.
But Bemis wasn’t shaken by the homer, nor was the rest of the team.
“It was just that we obviously have to score to win a ball game,” Bemis thought to herself after the home run. “We’re not going to win unless we score, so I just thought they scored, so why not just come back from that and we score, too. I was just trying to stay calm and play my game.”
Bemis put two runners on in the top of the seventh inning, but worked out of the jam without allowing a run.
Bemis struck out eight and walked just one in the game, giving up only three hits. She did her best Harry Houdini act by escaping jams in the first, second, third and seventh innings, surviving four errors in the first three innings without allowing a run.
“Those first three innings, I just threw my game,” Bemis said. “I mean, they got on on errors, and it’s just going to happen. So I just threw my game and knew that my fielders behind me would make the plays. I just had confidence in myself and my team that we would get out of those jams.”
“She’s grown so much as a pitcher,” Diehl said of Bemis. “We booted the ball around and had to get five outs in an inning because of the errors, and she stayed so relaxed. She stayed in control of that game from the first pitch to the last. I’m so happy for her.”
Clarke cut the lead to 2-1 on an RBI groundout by Pate scoring Bakley in the bottom of the sixth inning.
The Lady Indians earned just the school’s second trip to the state tournament.
“It feels amazing,” Bemis said about making it to state. “I knew we could do it. It’s probably the greatest feeling I’ve ever felt. It just feels great.”
“It feels great,” Crees agreed. “We’ve been talking about this all season, since coach D came here, so it feels really good to make it happen.”
Clarke (26-9) draws fourth-ranked East Marshall (28-5) in the first round, playing at 11 a.m. July 23 on Diamond 1 at Harlan Rogers Sports Complex in Fort Dodge.
Win or lose, the Lady Indians will play either 14th-ranked New Hampton (27-9) or third-ranked Mid-Prairie (30-10), who knocked the Lady Indians out last season in the regional finals.
If Clarke wins, the Lady Indians play 3:30 p.m. July 25. A loss would put them in the consolation bracket, with play beginning 10 a.m. July 24.
For Diehl, who watched the 1995 state championship run as a seventh-grade fan, making the trip to state as a coach will be a special feeling.
“I will never forget the feeling as a seventh grader standing on the sideline, so I can’t wait for my girls to experience that, and I can’t wait to experience it as a coach,” Diehl said. “It’s a whole different atmosphere to walk in there and play in a state tournament. I can’t wait for our community to come out and support us and make the trip to Fort Dodge and win a state title. Why not just keep going?”
W. Burlington Notre Dame 2
R H E
WBND 000 002 0 — 2 3 3
Clarke 000 001 2 — 3 6 4
WB: Alex Yacko 7K 3BB and Kelci Hill. Cl: Libby Bemis 8K 1BB and Kassidy Spurgin. W — Bemis. L— Yacko. HR — WB: Raegan Olson 1. 3B — none. 2B — none. RBI — WB: Olson 2. Cl: Kennedy Crees 1, Sarah Pate 1, Amanda Kindred 1. Multiple hitters — Cl: Crees 2.