GOOSE LAKE - The pressure was squarely on the Anamosa softball team as they made a second trip to Goose Lake in a four-day span Friday, July 5.
Win one of the two games against a talented Northeast team and the Raiders would earn their first outright conference championship since 1996 when Anamosa dominated the now defunct Big Bend Conference on their way to a state tournament berth.
Early on however, it didn’t look good.
“We were at Northeast Tuesday (July 2) and in the first game got off to one of the worst starts we had all season long,” said Raider softball coach Brad Holub, as Northeast plated six first inning runs and had 10 up on the board before lightning caused officials to postpone the game until Friday.
“Things didn’t go a whole lot better then either. We stopped the game in the top of the fifth on Tuesday and Northeast scored the game’s final four runs to 10-run us in six innings on Friday. That was something this team is just not used to, and we needed to answer in a big way in the second game.”
Anamosa (29-4, 17-3) was handed a 13-3 loss in the opener of the twinbill with the Rebels that stretched over two days, but with the outright River Valley Conference North division championship on the line, the Raiders made sure they were not going to miss out on an historic opportunity.
“They answered the bell,” said Holub, as a late rally allowed Anamosa to claim a 12-5 final and secure their spot atop the North division standings.
“The girls knew what was at stake and after falling behind in the fourth inning they finished strong.”
The Rebels plated four fourth inning runs to take a 5-3 lead in the finale, but the class 3A eighth-ranked Raiders responded like champions scoring the final nine runs, including four in the sixth and another five in the seventh to blow the game open.
“Winning the conference title is big for us,” Holub said. “We thought coming into the season that we had the pieces in place for something like this to happen, but you just never know. Everything has to play out just right and the girls bought in and worked hard and played as a team all season long. This is a reward that was well deserved.”
Emily Watters and Alexa Jess played key roles in the victory each ripping two hits while Watters also drove home four runs. Kalli Minger was her usual sensational self in the pitcher’s circle.
“Kalli struggled against Northeast on Tuesday but came back on Friday and really stepped up to meet the challenge,” said Holub, as Minger tossed a complete game seven-hitter allowing two earned runs while fanning four Rebel batters.
“The highlight of the game came in the seventh inning when Lexi Bright put down a perfect suicide squeeze that scored Ellie Tallman and then the rout was on.”
Anamosa bats ripped 10 hits in the finale after being held to just five in the opener.
The doubleheader with the Rebels wasn’t the only high-pressure contest of the week for the Raiders as fourth-ranked West Liberty made their way to town Wednesday, July 3.
“Neither us or West Liberty threw their No. 1 pitcher in this game and neither of us gave a way too many of our secrets either,” said Holub, as Anamosa sent their two seniors Jessie Frasher and Jess out with a home win after taking a 5-2 final.
“We might just play West Liberty in the regional final in about a week and no one wanted to give away any unneeded information. That game is much more important than this one, though we still did want to win it.”
And the Raiders wasted no time in making sure that would happen, plating three first inning runs keyed by four first inning hits.
Watters, Lubben and Tallman delivered back-to-back-to-back hits to open the game before Jess doubled.
Watters, Lubben and Tallman all crossed the plate in the frame and the hosts would never look back.
“Emily held West Liberty, the River Valley Conference South division champions, to just two runs and seven hits and looked good doing it, too, especially for an eighth grader. I was very impressed by her composure pitching against one of the best teams in the state.”
Watters tossed all seven innings and struck out five Comet batters as the Raiders learned after the game that the win clinched at least a tie for the North division title when Camanche lost at Durant that night.
“It was so great to see the fire and intensity back,” Holub said. “Just a night earlier at Northeast it wasn’t there.”
Lubben and Autumn Kirby scored in a two-run second as the hosts stretched their lead to 5-1 before West Liberty ended the scoring plating a single run in the top of the third.
Jess was sensational going 3-for-3 while Lubben, Tallman and Kirby all added two hits each for the 12-hit Raider offense.
The week started with a huge 16-0, four-inning blowout at Tipton Monday, July 1.
“We actually got off to a bit of a slow start in this one but then got things going in the fourth,” Holub said. “We did what we needed to do and just hit the ball all over the place.”
Anamosa bats were on fire tallying 19 hits overall in the game as the Raiders blew open a 7-0 contest by plating nine fourth inning runs.
Lubben, Jess and Maggie McQuillen all tagged Tipton pitchers for three hits each while Tallman, Frasher, Minger and Bright came through with two more each.
Minger worked the game’s first three frames in the circle and allowed just one hit while striking out eight.