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Earlham edges North Union in state softball quarterfinals

LEGGING OUT A HIT — North Union’s Cassie Beadle sprints to first base to leg out a hit before either Earlham catcher Alli Boyle (left) or Cardinal third baseman Alexis Voss (right) can make a play on the bunt during Iowa Class 2A state quarterfinal softball action Monday at Iowa Central Field on the Harlan Rogers Sports Complex in Fort Dodge, Iowa. (Photo by Greg Abel)

FORT DODGE, Iowa — No. 5-seeded North Union’s high-octane batting order produced a dozen hits in Monday’s state softball opener, but No. 4-seeded Earlham’s “small-ball” skills proved the difference at Harlan Rogers Sports Complex.

Katie Janssen, Allison Beatty and Morgan Mineart each dropped down sacrifice bunts to help generate three runs, while leadoff batter Grace Porter collected two hits, scored one run and drove in another to power the Cardinals to a 7-4 Iowa Class 2A state quarterfinal triumph over the Warriors at Iowa Central Field.

North Union (29-5) faces Pella Christian (17-19) at 1 p.m. today in a consolation game at Dodger Field.

Earlham (33-9) advances to an 11:30 a.m. state semifinal against No. 1-seeded Wilton (29-3) on Wednesday back at Iowa Central Field at Rogers Sports Complex. Wilton downed No. 8-seeded Pella Christian, 7-2.

No. 2-seeded North Linn (40-6) edged No. 7-seeded Iowa City Regina (19-13) in Class 2A state quarterfinal action, 5-2, while No. 3 Central Springs (30-6) flattened No. 6 Underwood, 11-0. North Linn faces Central Springs at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in a state semifinal.

After Earlham senior right-hander Madeline Janssen worked around a one-out single — the first of three hits by North Union’s Cassie Beadle in the top of the first inning, Porter and her bunting teammates applied early offensive pressure to produce four runs on four hits in the home half of the first.

Porter, who entered the state clash with a .418 batting average, drilled a leadoff single before swiping second base. The Mercurial left fielder had stolen a team-best 34 of 35 attempts prior to Monday’s game against the Warriors. Porter circled the bases on Cora Boyle’s one-out RBI single to center before Cora Boyle wheeled to third on Alli Boyle’s ensuing single to the left-center gap.

With Cardinal runners at second and third, Katie Janssen pushed a bunt down the third base line. The Warriors fielded the tapper, faked a throw to first and fired to third to try to nab Cora Boyle straying too far. Cora Boyle alertly broke for the plate, and the ensuing toss home proved errant to allow a run to score.

Alexis Voss followed with an RBI single before Beatty dropped down a perfect safety-squeeze bunt for an RBI and a 4-0 Earlham lead.

“I learned today that you have to rely on your defense to get the outs when you’re playing against good hitting teams at this (state) level,” said North Union sophomore ace right-hander Emily Meyer, who had recorded a single-season school-record 271 strikeouts heading into the state quarterfinal.

Meyer finished with two strikeouts, issued three walks and allowed seven runs — five earned — on seven hits in six innings of work to absorb a rare loss.

Emily Meyer, however, proved the most productive batter in the Warriors’ offensive order by going 2-for-4 with a game-best three RBIs.

Trailing by four, Meyer hammered a two-run double into the left-center gap with two outs to keep North Union within striking distance during the top of the third inning.

Ella Ulrich worked out a leadoff walk, moved to second on Beadle’s second hit of the game, but was replaced on base via Earlham shortstop Cora Boyle’s softball-savvy throw to third on Olivia Von Bank’s grounder. Emily Meyer then crushed a Madeline Janssen delivery to slice the Warriors’ deficit to 4-2.

“I’ve been swinging at the first strike I see at the plate, and it (hitting strategy) has been working well for me lately,” said Emily Meyer.

The Cardinals utilized the bunt to their advantage to rebuild a four-run lead by plating two in the bottom of the fourth.

Haley Glade walked with one out before Mineart dropped a bunt in front of the plate. The Warriors’ ensuing throw to first sailed into right field, allowing Glade to score and Mineart to reach second. Emma Jensen then smacked a pivotal RBI single down the left-field line with two out to plate Mineart for a 6-2 edge.

Nielsen, who was hitting a third-best .610 in Class 2A, and Beadle set the table for a late North Union comeback bid in the top of the fifth. Nielsen legged out a slap hit to short before Beadle deadened a bunt hit only inches from the plate to put Warriors on first and second.

Madeline Janssen notched one of her three strikeouts for the initial out of the at-bat before Emily Meyer drilled an RBI single up the middle to bring home Nielsen to narrow the gap to 6-3.

Unfortunately for North Union and Earlham shortstop Cora Boyle, the Warriors’ lead runner flattened Boyle while she was trying to glove Vanessa Von Bank’s grounder and was called out for runner’s interference. Despite a bunt hit by Shelby Fraker, Madeline Janssen got a flyout to thwart the threat.

Nielsen created a two-out opportunity for North Union in the top of the sixth. Beadle appeared to have drilled an RBI hit down the third base line, but was ruled out when she stepped on the plate during contact with the delivery.

Porter then utilized her speed to help generate an insurance run for Earlham in the bottom of the sixth. Beatty singled to left, swiped second base, moved to third on Mineart’s groundout and scored when Porter beat the throw to first on a slow roller to second.

The Warriors collected three more hits in the top of the seventh, but could only net one run to fall short on the scoreboard.

Olivia Von Bank singled, took second on Emily Meyer’s groundout and motored to third on Vanessa Von Bank’s bloop single just behind first base.

Olivia Von Bank scored one out later on Naomi Jones’ RBI single to left, but Madeline Janssen sealed the Earlham victory with her third and final strikeout of the game.

Kaylee Meyer added a two-out hit for North Union during the top of the fourth.

N. Union 002 010 1 — 4 12 4

Earlham 400 201 x — 7 7 1

Emily Meyer (LP) and Shelby Fraker. Madeline Janssen (WP) and Alli Boyle.

LOB–North Union 9, Earlham 4. 2B–Sam Nielsen (NU) and Emily Meyer (NU). SAC–Katie Janssen (E), Allison Beatty (E) and Morgan Mineart (E).

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