Newell-Fonda zips North Union for region title, state bid

COMING UP SHORT — North Union shortstop Breanna Anderson (second from right) tags out Newell-Fonda runner Maggie Walker (4) trying to steal second base during fifth-inning softball action in the Iowa Class 1A, Region 1 championship game on Monday night in Swea City. North Union second baseman Cassie Beadle backs up the play. (Photo by Greg Abel)

SWEA CITY — Newell-Fonda earned a return trip to the Iowa Class 1A state softball tournament, and in the process, ended No. 7-ranked North Union’s three-year state string on Monday night.

Freshman left-hander Ella Larsen fired a three-hit complete-game shutout, while teammate Maggie Walker went 3-for-4 with a game-best four RBIs to pace the unranked Mustangs’ 10-0 triumph over the Warriors during the Region 1 championship clash in Swea City.

Newell-Fonda (25-13) captured its 10th Class 1A state softball appearance in the past 14 years, and first since 2016. The Mustangs open the state quarterfinals next Monday at Harlan Rogers Sports Complex in Fort Dodge, Iowa, at either 11 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m. or 1:30 p.m. against an opponent to be determined.

North Union (25-5), which the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union moved to 1A during the offseason, had its three-year state run in Class 2A come to an end after placing sixth, sixth and eighth in 2015-17, respectively. Warrior head coach Art Ingalls was seeking the program’s sixth overall state berth.

Ironically, Ella Larsen hurled a nearly identical three-hit shutout at North Union during Newell-Fonda’s 4-0 regular-season victory on June 5.

Larsen recorded six strikeouts and issued one walk in seven innings of work during Monday night’s regional championship game. The freshman phenom notched six strikeouts and issued two walks in tossing a three-hit shutout 34 days earlier.

“I pitched some as an eighth-grader last season, but my sister (junior) Olivia (Larsen) was our main pitcher earlier this year,” said Ella Larsen, who improved to 13-7 inside the chalked circle this summer. “After she suffered a back injury, I stepped in on a regular basis.”

Ella Larsen worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the first inning, and then a second-and-third situation in the third. Newell-Fonda’s freshman ace finished with a flurry, retiring 12 of the last 13 Warrior batters she faced to complete her shutout.

Hope Steinberger reached on an error and Katelyn Thackery legged out a bunt hit before both North Union runners moved into scoring position via Kate Anderson’s sacrifice bunt in the first.

Breanna Anderson drew a walk to fill the bases, but Ella Larsen recorded a clutch strikeout to turn away the Warriors empty-handed.

Steinberger then lined a leadoff single in the third before Kate Anderson blooped a hit into shallow left field. Rory McClellan reached on a fielder’s choice, but Ella Larsen recorded another timely strikeout to thwart the threat.

While Ella Larsen held the Warrior bats in check, the Mustangs manufactured a solo run in the second behind the ‘stately’ legs of Bailey Sievers. Sievers, who placed fifth in the 800-meter run at the 2018 Class 1A state track & field meet, reached on one of North Union’s six errors before sprinting all the way home when Peyton Wilken’s sinking liner to center was misplayed.

“We’ve got four slappers in our lineup and that’s part of our game. We like to bunt and steal, and our girls did a nice job of executing that strategy tonight,” said fifth-year Mustang head coach Tim Gauley. “After we built an early lead, we used our extra-base hits to blow the game open late.”

Newell-Fonda used its ‘small-ball’ attack to add two more runs in the fourth frame. Megan Morenz, who ran a leg with Olivia Larsen and Bailey Sievers on the Mustangs’ state-qualifying 4×800-meter relay team, singled and raced to third on the Warrior right fielder’s error.

Maggie Walker, who placed fourth in the open 400 at the state track meet earlier this spring, executed a perfect suicide-squeeze bunt to plate the speedy Morenz. Walker later stole second, wheeled to third on Ellie Lago’s sacrifice bunt and slid safely across the plate on Bailey Sievers’ perfect suicide-squeeze bunt for a 3-0 lead.

Walker then drilled a pivotal two-run single with two out in the top of the fifth to widen the gap to 5-0 before Olivia Larsen triggered a five-run outburst on five hits in the top of the seventh.

Olivia Larsen legged out her second bunt hit before sprinting home on Ella Larsen’s RBI double. Morenz reached on an error before Walker doubled Morenz home. Walker later scored on Lago’s two-run home run for a double-digit lead.

N-F 010 220 5 — 10 10 2

NU 000 000 0 — 0 3 6

Ella Larsen (WP) and Peyton Wilken. Kate Anderson (LP) and Rory McClellan.

LOB–Newell-Fonda 6; North Union 6. 2B–Ella Larsen (NF), Maggie Walker (NF). HR–Ellie Lago (NF). SAC–K. Anderson (NU), E. Larsen (NF), Walker (NF), Lago (NF), Bailey Sievers (NF).