Fort Madison sits atop the Southeast Conference at 9-1
BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Fort Madison’s Erika Kruse is glad she changed her mind and stuck with softball. The Lady Hounds are glad she did, too.
Kruse had some heroics in a couple of one-run wins over Southeast Conference front runner Burlington at Hoskins Field Monday night.
Kruse had a walk-off RBI single in the bottom of the 7th of the opener as Fort Madison downed the Grayhounds 4-3. Then in the bottom of the sixth inning of the nightcap, Kruse slapped another single to right center that proved to be the game-winner in the 9-8 affair.
Kruse also got the win in the second game coming on in relief of Lauryn Helmick in the sixth inning. A win that was capped when junior Emily Steffensmeier got horizontal in center field to snag a dying line drive off the bat of Hannah Heuvelman to end the game.
Kruse said it’s hard to pinpoint why she’s seeing the ball so much better in the last week.
“Really I have no clue. I’ve been practicing more and I just have more confidence at the plate,” Kruse said.
“A couple years ago, I quit. But then I came back, and now I just wanna make sure I’m getting more work in and doing what I need to do to make myself better for the team.”
In the second game, Kruse went 2 for 4 with 4 RBIs and a run scored. One of the hits was a monster shot to right center that would have cleared the scoreboard had it been a little more to the right. The 2-run bomb put Fort Madison up 6-1 in the second inning after a four-run bottom half of the first.
Lexi Whaley, Neeley Rehm, and McKenna Cashman all had RBI singles in the bottom of the first to give Fort Madison some breathing room early.
After Kruse’s homer, the Grayhounds put together a rally scoring three in the top half of the third on two singles and a Bloodhound error to cut the lead to 6-4. BHS would tie things up in the top of the fourth when Morgan Schroeder slapped a 2-run single to center.
Fort Madison would go down in order in the fourth and Burlington picked up where it left off with a lead-off single followed by a double from Aubrey Hesler down the left field line, scoring Maddie Taeger and giving the Grayhounds a 7-6 lead. Burlington would add a run in the top of the fifth.
Both teams would go down in order in the fifth and top of the sixth, then Taylor Johnson beat out a bobbled grounder to short to start the bottom of the 6th. Emily Steffensmeier singled, moving Johnson up a bag. Logan Johnson followed with a single to left plating Johnson. Steffensmeier and Logan Johnson both moved up a base when the ball got away in left.
Then Kruse drove the first pitch she saw to the left-center fence on one bounce, scoring Steffensmeier and Logan Johnson. Kruse was thrown out trying to stretch the hit into a double, but the 2 RBIs proved to be the game-winner as Kruse got the top half of the seventh in order.
Logan Johnson went 3-for-4 with an RBI, Kruse, Whaley, Elle Ruble and Rehm all had two-hit games and each scored a run. Steffensmeier, Elizabeth Tanner, and Cashman also had hits for Fort Madison.
Helmick went five innings giving up eight runs, four earned on seven hits, while fanning three and walking four. Kruse came on and didn’t allow a hit or run while fanning three without a walk.
In the opener, the Hounds mustered just five hits, one each from Logan Johnson, Kruse, Whaley, Ruble, and Cashman, but managed a little small ball and scored four runs. Cashman accounted for 2 RBIs in the win.
The Grayhounds opened the scoring with a run in the first and both teams were held scoreless until the fourth, when BHS put up two more.
Fort Madison would get on the board in the bottom half of the fourth with Whaley leading off, taking an 0-1 pitch to left for two bases. Ruble would follow with a bunt single, moving courtesy runner Macey McLees to third. Neeley Rehm would get an RBI on a fielder’s choice to second, scoring McLees to make it 3-1.
After a strikeout for the first out, Cashman tripled on a line drive to center, scoring Ruble and courtesy runner Jaycee Fullenkamp to tie things up. BHS’ Saydee Plummer would coerce two pop fly outs to retire the side.
Rehm would lock things down for the Lady Hounds the rest of the way, setting up the seventh inning heroics.
Steffensmeier would work a walk to lead things off and Logan Johnson would follow with a grounder to third, but Steffensmeier was off to the races and beat the throw to second. Kruse would step in and take a 1-1 offering to center to score Steffensmeier from second with the game-winner.
Head Coach Jared Rehm said he wasn’t surprised. With the sweep, that moves the Bloodhounds into first place in the Southeast Conference at 9-1. Burlington drops to second at 7-2 on the year in conference play.
“The way we’ve been playing I’m not surprised at this,” he said. “This weekend up at Davenport we went 0-3 but it was against some really good teams and they were all close games,” Rehm said.
“Up there in Davenport, that was a long day, and when the games were over, I said they played well. The scoreboard didn’t indicate that, but I told them to take the same energy and bring that tonight and they did.”
Kruse said the squad feels better about how they’re playing after the last five games.
“I think it makes all of us feel better about how were playing. This year we have really stepped up and worked together and are not playing separately.”
Kruse certainly has been part of the resurgence, hitting seven home runs in the last eight days and now leads the conference, one ahead of Fairfield’s Hannah Simpson.
“She’s seeing the ball really well. Clutch – that’s for sure. She’s always asking what she can do and I’ve been working with her for a long time,” Rehm said.
The Hounds (10-10, 9-1) are off until Thursday when Mt. Pleasant comes to Fort Madison.