OGDEN - The St. Edmond softball team knew they would need to play a near-perfect contest to defeat fourth-ranked (Class 2A) Van Meter in a regional final here Monday night.
For the better part of four innings the Gaels did just that, but those two frames when the Bulldogs scored runs were too much to overcome as the Gaels were ousted one win from a return to the state tournament, 4-1 last night.
Van Meter (31-7 overall) will compete at Rogers Park in Fort Dodge next Monday night against Sumner-Fredericksburg (32-10) at 5:30 p.m. The Bulldogs enter having won seven of their last eight, and feature a strong duo in University of Iowa signee Aspen Rhodes and Kaytlyn Ernst.
Rhodes blasted a two-run homer in the third, and Ernst added a solo shot one batter later. Ernst, who will attend Simpson College in the fall, also earned the win in the circle, striking out 11 and scattering five hits.
"Ernst is one of the best pitchers we have faced all year, and she showed that (Monday)," SEHS head coach Paul Hunt said. "Her rise ball was the best we have seen. And Rhodes is a great athlete.
"Van Meter is a very good team and we wish them nothing but the best next week at state."
VAN METER 4, ST. EDMOND 1
St. Edmond000 010 0 - 1 5 2
Van Meter003 010 x - 4 9 1
Katie Donnelly (L, 17-7, 6 IP, 9 H, 4 ER, 4 K, 3 BB) and Jessica Kuebler; Kaytlyn Ernst (W, 26-5, 7 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 11 K, 0 BB) and Dani Hubbard. HR - SE: Josie Heesch; VM: Aspen Rhodes, Ernst. 2B - VM: Bailey Richards. RBI - SE: Heesch; VM: Rhodes (2), Ernst, Richards. SB - SE: Anna Yung; VM: Hubbard (2), Ana Angel, Rhodes, Hope Connor. Multiple hitters - SE: Yung (2); VM: Rhodes (2), Richards (2).
Hunt felt like if St. Edmond could limit the Bulldogs to three or four runs, they would give themselves a chance. Ernst and the Van Meter defense didn't allow that to happen, turning a pair of double plays that eliminated potential threats in the first and fifth innings.
Josie Heesch belted her 12th home run of the season in the fifth for the lone Gael run of the evening. Heesch connected on an 0-1 Ernst pitch, but the senior recovered and allowed just one runner to reach second over the final three frames after the Heesch homer.
"We just couldn't put that big inning together," Hunt said. "Credit our kids, because they battled until the last out.
"It just wasn't meant to be for us."
Junior Katie Donnelly (17-7) was able to pitch her way out of several jams, escaping bases loaded situations in the first and fifth with just one run coming home.
"Katie's been pitching on a torn MCL and other muscle damage for the better part of the last month. She's really gutted it out," Hunt said. "I think if we can get her back to 100-percent for next year, you are going to see a very strong Katie Donnelly."
Anna Yung, one of several underclassmen for St. Edmond, had two hits and a stolen base, while Jaci Stumpf and Jessica Kuebler - also underclassmen - collected a base hit each.
Just two members of the Gael roster will be departing, as St. Edmond graduates first baseman Timmi Dencklau and third baseman Lexi Peed.
"Timmi and Lexi were important parts to what we have built here at St. Edmond," Hunt said. "They both did a great job of leading by example this year, and we are going to miss them next season."