ATLANTIC — The sudden finality of the end of Clarke’s season wore on the faces of the Lady Indians in the postgame gathering in left field at the end of a 2-1 Clarke loss to Atlantic Monday.
While the Class 3A Region 4 champion Trojans milled about the infield, exchanging hugs and tears of joy between ecstatic family members and discarded gloves, the Lady Indians were taking stock of the season that was.
“I told them there’s nothing to be upset about,” Clarke coach Lindsay Diehl said. “We played really great defense and that’s something that down the stretch here that has been a struggle for us. We looked clean and I was happy with the way we did that.”
The margin of error this late in the postseason is particularly tiny. Atlantic took advantage of two slight mistakes to take the win.
In the first inning, a triple down the right field line by Atlantic’s Ally Anderson skipped past a charging Sarah Davis and enabled Alexis Handel to score from first for a 1-0 Trojans lead that held until the sixth inning.
Can’t string it together
Ashlynn Oehlert, who singled in the fifth, was one of four Clarke runners to reach first base over the first five innings, but got no further.
Clarke’s sixth started with a stinging Sidney Marker single up the middle and an Emma Bolton bunt that put runners on first and second when nobody covered first base.
CeJay Blakley, who had one of three Clarke hits when she cracked a base knock in the fourth inning for Clarke’s first hit, put down an effective sacrifice bunt to place runners on second and third.
Then, Diehl called on Audrey Kindred to drop a squeeze bunt, which she executed to score a charging Marker to tie the game.
“When she got in that situation and we had speed here, I knew that was what we were going to do,” Diehl said about the squeeze bunt.
Consecutive groundouts by Chynna Beydler and Hailee Fry on a pulled in infield ended the threat.
Atlantic answered back an Alyssa Derby single and an Anderson double to the fence in left field that put runners on second and third with one out.
When Alexis Watson struck out Logan Pellett with an outside pitch, the ball bounced slightly away from catcher Audrey Kindred and when Kindred threw to first for the out, Derby made a heads up play to sprint home for what was the winning run.
Clarke sent three to the plate in the seventh and each went down to send Atlantic into its celebration. The Trojans, the Hawkeye 10 champions, clinched their second trip to Fort Dodge in the last three seasons.
Anderson commanded the strike zone for Atlantic, and though she struck out two Lady Indians, managed to quiet the Clarke bats most of the night. “She was a little crisper there,” Diehl said about Anderson being much better than when Clarke defeated Atlantic 9-2 on June 9. “She threw a heck of a game and she’s a solid defender. Her and that their baseman (Handel) are solid defenders.”
Diehl wore her heart on her sleeve when talking after the loss. The program loses three seniors, Sidney Marker, Beydler and Taylor-Dawn Miler.
“I pour everything I have into this program and they buy in and they do everything that I ask them to do. The first thing I said when I got out here was I told them I love them and I really mean that,” Diehl said. “These kids are my family and I’m so proud of the way they play ball and the way that they competed tonight. We had some times this season where we looked really ugly this year so to end this season playing a team that was sitting at No. 8 right in that spot all year long and battling them out in a 2-1 ballgame for them to make it to Fort Dodge I can’t be anything but pleased with this group of kids and the growth that they’ve made.”
Clarke finishes its season 17-14.
Atlantic 2, Clarke 1
R H E
Cla 000 001 0 — 1 3 1
Atl 100 001 x — 2 5 2
Cl: Alexis Watson 2K 0BB and Audrey Kindred. Atl: Ally Anderson 2K 0BB and Alyssa Derby. W — Anderson. L— Watson. HR — none. : 3B — Atl: Anderson 1. 2B — Anderson 1. RBI — Atl: Anderson 1. Cl: Kindred 1. Multiple hitters — Atl: Anderson 2, Handel 2.