WINTERSET — The Clarke softball team advanced to the State Softball Tournament for the second straight year, in almost the exact same fashion it advanced to last year’s state tournament.
Last year it was Kennedy Crees coming up with the walkoff hit in the bottom of the seventh inning, and this year it was freshman Vanessa Bakley who gave the Lady Indians a 4-3 win over ADM here Monday in the Class 3A Region 8 final.
Amanda Kindred started a one-out rally for Clarke in the bottom of the seventh, blooping a single over the head of ADM first baseman Caitlyn Gruening.
That brought up the top of the Clarke order, and head coach Lindsay Diehl elected to have leadoff batter Kennedy Crees, the team’s leading hitter, sacrifice bunt pinch runner Mackenzi Otto into scoring position.
That decision paid off.
No. 2 hitter Vanessa Bakley, with two outs and down to her final strike, delivered with a fly ball into left-center field, that was glanced off the glove of ADM left fielder Gabbie Glenn, dropping to the ground.
Diehl was waving Otto home from the moment the ball met Bakley’s bat, and she scored easily, sending the Clarke dugout into a frenzy as the remaining Lady Indians spilled onto the field to congratulate Bakley.
“I felt like what she gave me, I was going to go with it,” Bakley said about her approach to ADM pitcher Molly Jacobsen, the state leader in strikeouts. “You’ve just got to play the game one pitch at a time. That’s what we did tonight and it just goes to show that if you never give up, things will come out your way.”
Diehl said knowing Bakley was coming to the plate made the decision to have Crees bunt easy.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better person than Vanessa Bakley to come up,” Diehl said. “She’s just a gamer all the time. I love this kid so much. Let her have this moment. And she did. Wow. That was amazing. I was screaming and jumping up and down the whole way home again.”
Just like last year’s win over West Burlington Notre Dame in the regional final, the third-ranked Lady Indians needed to come from behind to win the game.
ADM held a 3-0 lead over Clarke going into the bottom of the sixth inning.
Senior Libby Bemis drew a one-out walk that got things going for the Clarke offense. Senior Devon Carson followed with a single up the middle.
Then, senior Carley Robins sent a two-strike pitch into left field for a two-run double that cut the Tigers’ lead to 3-2.
“On my previous two at-bats, I got a hit on two strikes,” Robins said. “I had two strikes when I got that hit, so I was extremely confident. I just waited for my pitch, because she kept throwing down the middle and I just drove it to left field.
“She was being consistent with her pitch count. I figured it was going to be inside or down the middle, and she threw it down the middle.”
Robins ended up on third base after the throw home from the outfield, and then scored when Kassidy Spurgin reached base on an error, making the score 3-3.
Robins wasn’t done making an impact on the game, though.
Clarke found itself in a jam in the top of the seventh inning, as the first two batters of the inning reached base.
Bemis struck out Jacobsen for the first out of the inning, and then induced a comebacker, getting the lead runner at third base for the second out of the inning.
Gruening, who had doubled in the sixth inning, came up with runners on first and second and ripped a line drive into left field.
ADM head coach Rick Dillinger waved Gabbie Glenn home on the play, but Robins came up throwing home.
Robins delivered a strike that reached home plate with Glenn just more than halfway down the line. Spurgin sat waiting for Glenn and held onto the ball as Glenn plowed through Spurgin, ending the inning on the tag.
“I wasn’t planning on throwing home,” Robins said. “I don’t know why he sent her. I practice it all the time. And my arm doesn’t hurt today, so that helps a lot.”
It was the third time Robins has thrown a runner out at home plate from left field this season, and the second time it’s saved the game for Clarke.
“I hear (assistant coach) Staci Ritchey sometimes next to me like, ‘send her, send her,’” Diehl said. “She wants them to show off her gun, because Carley has it. And wow. Kassidy is waiting to put the tag on, where the girl even tries to tackle her behind the plate. That was huge! I can’t say enough about Carley Robins.”
From the very beginning, Monday’s game looked like a replay of last year’s regional final game.
The first two ADM batters of the game reached base on errors, eventually leading to a run.
“You could tell even when we just first stepped out there that the nerves were going to get the best of us that first inning,” Diehl said. “After I went out there after we had a couple mistakes, I said, ‘this is exactly what we did last year. That’s all right. We’re going to answer back. It’ll be OK.’”
But Diehl said the wait for the comeback this year was more nerve-wracking.
ADM added a run in the fifth inning when No. 9 hitter Gabbie Glenn hit a solo home run to right field. The Tigers added to the lead in the sixth inning after Gruening’s double.
But Bemis didn’t let the errors or the home run rattle her. She finished the game with seven strikeouts and just two walks and four hits allowed.
“I know we’re all nervous at the beginning,” Bemis said. “We’ve got a young team. I just tell them that I believe in them. I made one bad pitch and they hit that home run, but I knew my team would have my back just like last year and we’d pull through in the end.”
Clarke improved to 24-8 for the season with the win, while ADM finishes its year at 25-11. The Lady Indians open the 2014 State Softball Tournament at 3 p.m. Monday against Spirit Lake (23-8).
Clarke 4, ADM 3
R H E
ADM 100 110 0 — 3 4 1
Clarke 000 003 1 — 4 6 3
ADM: Molly Jacobsen 1BB 5K and Hannah Tiffany. Clk: Libby Bemis 2BB 7K and Kassidy Spurgin. W — Bemis. L— Jacobsen. HR — ADM: Gabbie Glenn 1. 3B — none. 2B — ADM: Caitlyn Gruening 1. Clk: Carley Robins 1. RBI — ADM: Glenn 1. Clk: Robins 2, Spurgin 1, Vanessa Bakley 1. Multiple hitters — ADM: Gruening 2. Clk: Bakley 2, Amanda Kindred 2.