BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
DONNELLSON – After starting last year 0-6 and then playing .500 ball the rest of the year, the Central Lee girls softball team is flying high at 3-0 this year.
The Lady Hawks have played three days straight to open the season and have given up just one run outscoring their opponents 29-1, highlighted by Wednesday’s 11-1 win over Class 4A Washington in non-conference action.
It was a pitchers’ dual the first five innings with the Lady Demon’s Alexa Mitchell and Central Lee’s Meghan Hopp turning up the heat on a otherwise cool evening.
Hopp gave up a single into left field in the top of the first to Kaitlyn Mitchell. Kellie Dallmeyer then hit into a fielder’s choice eliminating Mitchell at second. But Halo Arrowood would gun Dallmeyer down trying to pilfer second with a nice catch and tag from Shanna Buford, just an 8th grader, over from short.
Head Coach Tiffany Woodruff said the girls have been playing some of the best defense she’s seen in her two years at the helm.
“It’s them really. I wish I could take all the credit. We’re hitting the ball and our defense has just been fantastic,” Woodruff said after the game.
“I don’t know – it’s just them I guess.”
The Lady Hawks would get on the board in the bottom half when sophomore Macy Watkins drew a one out walk and then senior Daly Brisby laced a gapper to left-center pushing Watkins to third. Buford would then ground out to short scoring Watkins.
Brisby would get stranded at third on a ground out back to the pitcher.
Then both Mitchell and Hopp went to work in the circle. Both sides would go three-up, three down in the second. In the third, both pitchers would give up walks and singles to start the inning.
Hopp got an assist in center field when Zoe Eschman came up firing off a single and threw out Washington’s Emma Herr at second on a force play. Then a fielder’s choice got the second out before Hopp got Kinsey Duwa swinging to retire the side, one of her two Ks on the night.
Makayla Morrison would walk to start the bottom half for Central and Eschman would move her over with a single to left. But two flyouts and strike out stranded both the girls.
Washington would tie the game in the fourth when Kaitlyn Mitchell doubled to start things and then Dallmeyer would reach on an fielding error at short by Buford. But Buford would redeem herself starting a 6-4-3 double play on the next at bat, allowing Mitchell to score on the play. A pop out to Sophie Woodley in right ended the inning.
The fifth inning would be another three-up, three-down affair for both teams. Hopp would repeat the feat in the sixth, but then Central Lee would blow things open in the bottom half with the game tied at 1.
Brisby started with a single, her second hit of the night. But Paige Worrell hit a smash back to the Mitchell who fielded clean and threw Brisby out at 2nd. Arrowood would reach on dropped fly to left that advanced Worrell.
Then Hopp, Woodley and Andrea Benner all singled with Woodley and Benner each getting an RBI. The wheels fell off for the Lady Demons battery at that point and the Lady Hawks would score three runs on wild pitches and passed balls for a 6-1 lead.
Morrison and Eschman would both work a base on balls before Watkins hit one through the middle scoring Morrison still with just one out. Brisby would reach on another error in left scoring Eschman, and Watkins would come around on passed ball before Buford would ground out to Claire Linnenkamp who had come on in relief of Mitchell.
Arrowood drew a walk to load the bases and Hopp then hit a smash between short and third to score Brisby for a 10-1 lead. Another wild pitch from Linnenbrink brought Arrowood around to score for an 11-1 win on the 10-run rule after five innings.
Hopp, who got her first win of the year in her first outing, gave up just two hits and two walks against two strikeouts and the one run.
“I first came out fairly nervous, but I knew our defense would back me up,” she said. “After a few hits I got pretty confident with the girls behind me.”
Hopp said this year has a different feel then the poor start last year.
“I feel like this year we’re a lot closer and we started strong and more confident. We’re feeling pretty good right now.”
Brisby, who went 2 for 4 at the plate with a double and a run scored, said the Lady Hawks didn’t want to repeat last year’s slow start.
“We wanted to redeem ourselves, so we’re ready to fight for this year,” she said. “We knew we needed to make up for last year, so we knew we had to work in the off-season and get our confidence up.”
Woodruff summed the game up quickly.
“That’s huge. That’s a big win.”
The Lady Hawks (3-0, 2-0) take on New London (2-1, 1-0) Thursday night back in Southeast Iowa Superconference South Divsion play.