BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – It took just nine innings, but the Fort Madison girls took two games off Keokuk Wednesday night 9-3 and 7-4.
The first game was a two-inning completion of a suspended game on June 7 when the Lady Hounds led 5-1 going into the fifth before the rain ended things in Keokuk.
The Hounds were supposed to play another doubleheader Wednesday with Keokuk, but those two were canceled and the makeup completion of the first game and the entire second game were played instead at Fort Madison.
Neeley Rehm got the win in the first game finishing up the final two innings allowing two runs, but Fort Madison tacked on two each in the bottom of the fifth and sixth to give the sophomore some breathing room.
Freshmen Lexi Whaley and Lauren Helmick led the Hounds in the win each slamming home runs. Whaley was 3-of-3 with a run scored and an RBI. Helmick went 2-for-2 with two runs scored and 2 RBI.
Emily Steffensmeier, Rehm, Logan Johnson and Kendall Beebe each had hits for Fort Madison (9-14, 5-7).
Rehm went all seven innings giving up three runs all earned on five hits and struck out eight.
In the nightcap, the two teams traded leads with Fort Madison jumping out to a 1-0 lead when Emily Steffensmeier tripled to right field and came around to score on a wild pitch.
Keokuk would put up two in the top of the third on a couple of fielding errors by the Hounds.
Fort Madison would retake the lead in the bottom when Elle Ruble and Rehm would execute steals at home. Keokuk would score two runs in the top of the fourth off Helmick, but that would be all the freshman would give up as Fort Madison put up a run in the fifth and then put the game away with three more in the bottom of the sixth for a 7-4 lead.
Steffensmeier would get a one-out single in the final frame followed by a walk to Allyson Helmick. Rehm would go down swinging on three pitches for the second out. Both base runners would advance on a wild pitch and then Logan Johnson would single scoring Steffensmeier. Whaley then ripped a double off the fence in right center to score two.
Erika Kruse then laced what looked like a true gapper to left, but Keokuk’s Issabelle Evans broke on the liner and caught it on a full run right above the grass robbing Kruse of a hit and an RBI.
Helmick would sit the Chiefs down in order in the top of the 7th to preserve the win.
The freshman said this year she is starting to come into her own in the circle.
“My arm has felt super loose. The spins have really been helping me lot, my curve ball mostly, and the rise,” Helmick said.
She has been pitching since she was nine, but struggled as an eighth grader playing varsity last year.
“Last year was kind of tough. I didn’t do my best, but this year has been way better,” she said.
“But I think we’re playing better as a team as we play more, and our attitudes are getting better. We’re finally coming together.”
Head Coach Jared Rehm said the Hounds have been playing markedly better since the Linn-Mar Tournament over the weekend.
“I think so. We went to Linn-Mar and didn’t get to finish that tournament because of the rain. But we played Linn-Marr really, really tough and then it poured rain and they wouldn’t call the game, and the momentum shifted,” Rehm said.
“Ever since then, I don’t know what sparked it, but they’ve been playing really tough softball.”
Steffensmeier and Logan Johnson each had two hits for Fort Madison in the second game. Whaley had two RBI and Steffensmeier scored two runs in the win. Helmick went all seven scattering just three hits while giving up four runs, only one earned, while fanning 11 and walking three.
The Hounds have two games with Mt. Pleasant (1-27) Thursday and then a doubleheader with Burlington on Monday. Two games with Fairfield were postponed Monday due to rain, but Class 4A Region 5 action starts Thursday, July 8 and the Bloodhounds have games every day that week.