No. 6 Panthers halt Warriors’ winning streak at 5

SHOESTRING CATCH — North Union right fielder Ella Ulrich makes a shoestring catch during second-inning Top of Iowa Conference softball action against Central Springs on Thursday night in Swea City. Ulrich maintained control of the softball to record the out. (Photo by Charlie Sorrells)

SWEA CITY — The Central Springs Panthers lived up to their billing as the No. 6-ranked softball team in the Iowa Class 2A state poll and then some on Thursday night.

Kaylea Fessler and Madisyn Kelley combined for seven hits and three RBIs to complement six runs scored from the Nos. 1 and 2 spots, respectively, in the batting order to power Central Springs to a 14-3, seven-inning triumph over the previously-undefeated North Union Warriors in Swea City.

The Panthers halted the Warriors’ season-opening winning streak at five in a row during Kim Price’s second summer season at North Union’s helm.

“I wasn’t looking for a specific pitch to hit in the seventh. I was just trying to help my team win the game and hit it out (of the ballpark),” said Fessler, who connected on her fifth HR in 10 games this summer.

Fessler, who entered the Top of Iowa Conference cross-division diamond clash with a .419 batting average, established Central Springs’ high-octane offensive ways by drilling a leadoff double before eventually scoring on Abby Pate’s RBI groundout in the top of the first inning.

Fessler finished Thursday night’s game with three hits, including the three-run shot in the seventh inning, to go with three runs scored, while Kelley went 4-for-5 to set the table for courtesy runner Ellyan Ryan to cross the plate three times. Kelley entered the game with a team-best .556 batting clip and shared the Panthers’ team RBI lead with Fessler at 14 apiece.

Fessler later displayed her versatility by moving from center field to inside the chalked circle to face only one batter over the limit in pitching two scoreless and hitless inning of relief.

“I’ve come in to relief in every game so far this season,” said Fessler, who’s struck out 24 in 24 innings of work in 2020.

Central Springs freshman starting pitcher Cooper Klaahsen — who has notched 56 strikeouts in 40 innings pitched after Thursday’s victory — retired the first eight North Union batters she faced before allowing a bunt single to Sam Nielsen with two out in the bottom of the third inning.

Meanwhile, the Panthers’ potent batting order erupted for two more runs in the second and four more in the third to build a 7-0 lead.

North Union right fielder Ella Ulrich made a running shoestring catch off the bat of Abigayle Angell to open the top of the second inning to assist in limiting the Panthers’ at-bat to just two runs. Kirsten Garnas drilled an RBI double and Kiley Hanft delivered a run-scoring single to extend the Panthers’ lead to 3-0.

Kelley triggered Central Springs’ four-run third by lining a leadoff single before Hanft highlighted the at-bat with a two-run single for a 7-0 edge.

Kelley was limited to a leadoff single when Warriors’ centerfielder Hope Steinberger fielded the Panther catcher’s line-drive off the fence and quickly fired the softball into second base. Ironically, Central Springs manufactured two more runs in the fourth via Angell’s RBI fielder’s choice and a wild pitch to allow Pate to score from third base. Pate reached via a walk.

After North Union freshman ace hurler Emily Meyer retired Central Springs in order during the top of the fifth, the Warriors spoiled Klaahsen’s shutout bid with three runs in the home half of the frame.

Shelby Fraker delivered a key pinch-hit single, reached second when Kaylee Tirevold’s hard-hit grounder to shortstop was mishandled and wheeled to third on Ulrich’s single.

Fraker later scored on an errant pickoff throw to third base before Steinberger singled home Naomi Jones — Tirevold’s courtesy runner. Ulrich capped the fifth-inning outburst by crossing the plate on Olivia Von Bank’s RBI blast past third to narrow the Warriors’ gap to 9-3.

Fessler and Kelley, however, combined in the top of the sixth to regain two runs by generating back-to-back singles. Pate followed with a hit before Fessler tagged and scored on Aurora Stepleton’s sacrifice fly. Ellyan Ryan then trotted home on Angell’s sacrifice fly for an 11-3 lead.

Fessler then recorded one strikeout and issued one walk in two innings of relief to preserve Klaahsen’s pitching decision.

Fessler then added insurance runs in the top of the seventh by jackhammering a 2-1 delivery off the scoreboard in center field. Emme Dietrich, who had singled, and Hanft, who had doubled, scored on Fessler’s three-run HR.

Klaahsen struck out seven, did not issue a walk and allowed three runs — all unearned — on five hits in five frames to earn the win.

Meyer gave up 13 runs — 10 earned — on 15 hits, struck out two, walked five and hit one batter in going the seven-inning distance to absorb the loss for the Warriors.

North Union (5-1) travels to Algona, Iowa, tonight to face Class 1A No. 5-ranked Bishop Garrigan at 6 p.m.

Central Springs (8-2) plays host to Rockford tonight.

CS 124 202 3 — 14 15 3

NU 000 030 0 — 3 5 2

Cooper Klaahsen (WP), Kaylea Fessler (6) and Madisyn Kelley. Emily Meyer (LP) and Kaylee Tirevold.

LOB–North Union 5; Central Springs 5. 2B–Fessler (CS), Kirsten Garnas (CS), Kiley Hanft (CS). HR–Fessler (CS). SF–Aurora Stepleton (CS) and Abigayle Angell (CS). SAC–Sam Nielsen (NU).


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