PHOTO: Panther players celebrate after defeating Center Point-Urbana to qualify for State Monday, July 15 in Farley. From left are Mara Mescher, Allison Ries, Sonya McCormick (4) and Anna Finger. (Photo by Pete Temple)
By Pete Temple, Express Sports Editor
It was a field of opportunities.
Several factors helped propel the Monticello Panthers to their first-ever State Softball Tournament, with a white-knuckle 2-1 regional final victory over Center Point-Urbana Monday, July 15 in Farley.
The Panthers (28-6) had heads-up baserunning, took advantage of CP-U errors, showed the ability to come from behind, and got enough key hits to slip past the Stormin’ Pointers and on to Fort Dodge.
It was a breakthrough victory for a program that had reached three previous regional finals in the past eight years, and had lost each time.
“I’m just so happy,” Monticello coach Tiffany Rave said. “This group of seniors is phenomenal. They’ve been working for this since they were little kids. They were going to find a way to get it done.”
“We knew we could do it,” senior catcher Lael Lubben said. “We were very confident going in.”
Monticello’s first state tournament opponent was unknown at press time. What was known was that the Panthers will play either Monday evening, July 22; or Tuesday morning, July 23.
While the Panthers made the plays that counted most, they did let one opportunity of their own slip away in the top of the second inning. Kori Bohlken led off with a triple to right field, but two foul pop flies and a strikeout left her stranded there.
Then, in the bottom of the second, CP-U scored the game’s first run on an RBI single by Samantha Croghan.
“If the girls kept the mentality of playing their game, we knew we would be all right,” Rave said.
“We just knew we had to keep it together,” senior shortstop Paxtyn Keleher said.
The Panthers tied the game in the fourth inning. Allison Kraus led off with a single to left, and was sacrificed to second by Bohlken. Keleher placed an infield single between the CP-U first and second basemen, moving Kraus to third.
Then, Erin Hosch hit a grounder to third. The third baseman checked Kraus, then fired to first. Kraus took off for home and beat the throw, tying the game 1-1.
“I tell the girls that if it’s hit to the left side, it’s their choice (whether to run),” Rave said. “It was a very big play on her part.”
The Panthers’ most opportunistic inning was the sixth. The Stormin’ Pointers made just two errors in this game, but they were back-to-back, and they were huge.
With two out and nobody on base, a throw was dropped at first base on a ball hit by Keleher. Then, Hosch singled to left, and the ball got by the left fielder and rolled all the way to the fence. Keleher raced all the way home from first for what proved to be the winning run
Then, Hosch pitched out of a second-and-third, one-out situation in the bottom of the sixth, getting a pop fly to third and a strikeout to end the inning.
Hosch held the Pointers to six hits in the game.