By Pete Temple, Express Sports Editor
Monticello kept piling on the hits – and the wins – as it steamrolled into the key part of the schedule with seven wins in eight games last week.
Included were doubleheader sweeps over Central City and Starmont, keeping the Panthers one game behind Tri-Rivers Conference-leading Ed-Co; and winning three out of four games in the Linn-Mar Classic tournament.
The Panthers (13-1, 28-4) started the week with the kind of hitting barrage that has characterized the team this season.
Monticello swept both Central City and Starmont. In three of those games, the Panthers reached double digits in both runs and hits.
The only exception was the first game at Central City June 18, which Monticello won 8-3. But even there, the Panthers took control early with five runs in the top of the first inning. A two-run homer by Sonya McCormick capped the rally.
Monticello scored single runs in the second, fifth and seventh innings, and kept the Wildcats off the scoreboard until Central City had a two-run fifth inning and a one-run seventh.
Erin Hosch pitched for the win, striking out seven. McCormick finished 2-for-4.
The Panthers were held to six hits in that game, but there was no holding them back in the next three. Monticello won the second game of the Central City doubleheader 16-3, collecting 12 hits in five innings.
Monticello opened an 8-3 lead after three innings, then scored eight runs in the top of the fourth. A key hit was a two-run double by McCormick, who finished 2-for-3 with four runs batted in. Paxtyn Keleher was also 2-for-3, while Taylor Aitchison batted 2-for-2 with three RBIs. Hannah Thompson was the winning pitcher.
“I was extremely proud of our aggressiveness. We did a good job of putting the ball into play hard, and making the defense make the plays,” Monticello coach Tiffany Kruse said.
On Wednesday, June 20, the Panthers returned to their home field to face Starmont, and won by scores of 12-9 and 13-3, the latter in six innings.
“We knew they were going to be a scrappy team, and they were just that,” Kruse said. “But once we settled into our game, I thought our pitching and defense adapted to that very well.”
In the first game, Monticello trailed 5-3 in the third inning, but scored two runs in the third and fourth innings, and four more in the fifth, to take an 11-6 lead. Starmont pulled to within two runs, 11-9, with three runs in the top of the sixth, but the Panthers added a key insurance run in the sixth.
Jordan Aitchison hit two home runs in the game and finished with four RBIs. Allison Kraus and Keleher both batted 3-for-4, while Kori Bohlken, Hosch and McCormick had two hits apiece.
Hosch pitched and picked up her 20th win of the season, striking out 11 Stars.
In the nightcap, the Panthers collected 22 hits and scored in every inning, taking a 9-0 lead after three and cruising from there. Brooke Stahlberg, Lael Lubben and Allison Kraus each went 4-for-5. Lubben and Kraus had two RBIs apiece. Stahlberg, Kraus and Hosch had triples. Keleher and Hosch had two hits each.
Thompson upped her pitching record to 5-1 with a six-hitter and three strikeouts.
The Panthers continued their winning ways, and their hitting ways, while winning three out of four games at the Linn-Mar tournament June 22-23.
Included were a 13-3 win over Midland and a 2-0 shutout over New Hampton on Friday, followed by a 6-5 loss to Cedar Rapids Xavier and a 7-6 win over Center Point-Urbana on Saturday.
The Panthers had 10 or more hits in each of the three wins.
“The Linn-Mar Classic is such a great opportunity to see exceptional teams that we normally wouldn’t play, and I thought that we really rose to the occasion and played some great softball,” Kruse said.
A seven-run third inning gave the Panthers a 9-3 lead in the Midland game. Stahlberg had three hits; Lubben hit two doubles. Hosch pitched a five-hitter to get the win.
Against New Hampton, Thompson fired a one-hitter for the victory, and single runs in the second and fifth innings were enough for the Panthers.
Xavier scored five runs in the fourth inning to take a 5-1 lead, then held of Monticello’s rally. Stahlberg went 3-for-4, and Jordan Aitchison hit a solo homer.
In the Center Point-Urbana game, the Panthers rallied from a 6-1 deficit with six runs in the sixth inning. Two-run singles by Lubben and Hosch were the key hits. Hosch pitched the final six innings after relieving Thompson, and got the win.
Big games ahead
It is a big week for the Panthers. Following a doubleheader at Cascade June 25, Monticello is scheduled to play host to Ed-Co June 27, in a doubleheader that should decide the Tri-Rivers title.
Then, the Panthers will begin post-season play Tuesday, July 3 with a home game against Valley/Postville, starting at 7 p.m.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better weekend of competition to prepare for our last week of conference play and leading into the post-season,” Kruse said.
PHOTO: Allison Kraus sets to make a throw from left field for Monticello in the Starmont doubleheader June 20 in Monticello. (Photo by Pete Temple)