OGDEN - The St. Edmond softball team will look to hit the ground running in their Class 2A regional final against No. 4 Van Meter here Monday night.
First pitch is set for 7 p.m.
The unranked Gaels (24-10 overall) would be considered underdogs on paper to the Bulldogs, who are 30-7 thanks in large part to standout pitcher Kaytlyn Ernst. Because of that, first-year SEHS head coach Paul Hunt is emphasizing the importance of a quick start at Ogden High School this evening.
''We need to be aggressive early and not let (Ernst) settle into a groove,'' Hunt said. ''We have to get going in the early innings before she finds any kind of comfort zone.
''(Ernst) is a great pitcher. (Van Meter) doesn't have many weaknesses; their defense is solid and they have a lot of speed and balance offensively. But I know we'll come out confident and ready to play.''
Ernst carries a 25-5 overall record and 1.61 earned run average into this contest for the Bulldogs, who are coached by Garland Shirley and assisted by former Manson Northwest Webster all-state athlete Hailey Beneke. The senior has 263 strikeouts on the season and over 900 for her career.
Senior Aspen Rhodes (.579 batting average, 7 home runs, 37 RBI, 18 stolen bases, 53 runs scored), sophomore Ana Angel (.505, 38 steals) and senior Dani Hubbard (.486, 58 steals) are the offensive catalysts for Van Meter.
Junior Allie Oberg is hitting .520 despite missing half of the season due to injury for St. Edmond, which went 15-3 for a second-place finish in the North Central Conference. Junior Josie Heesch has 11 home runs and a .378 average, while senior Timmi Dencklau is batting .380 with team-highs in hits (38) and RBI (33).
Junior Katie Donnelly (17-6, 2.04 ERA) will head to the circle for the Gaels, who went 32-6 overall and placed third at state just two years ago.
''We're excited to play them,'' Hunt said. ''Their style of game is similar to ours. It's obviously a tremendous opportunity for our program.
''When you're one win away from the state tournament, you have to try to be both confident and relaxed because it's a pressure situation for both sides. This has been our goal since day one, so we're really looking forward to it.''
Hunt is also hoping a large contingent of Gael fans will make the 45-minute trip to support the squad.
''Our fans do a great job of getting us fired up, whether it's in Fort Dodge at Rogers Park or on the road,'' Hunt said. ''It's great to have them on our side.''