Not only did the Beckman Blazers claim their first state softball tournament trip in Durant July 15, they upset the second-ranked team in Class 2A to do it. And on their home field to boot.
Before a crowd that was 95% Durant fans at their home field, the Blazers scrapped and clawed their way to a 4-2 win over arguably the best pitcher they had seen all year. Durant’s Kamryn Meyer boasts a .52 ERA, the best in Class 2A and 10th in the entire state.
After the game an obviously happy Blazer pitcher Sydney Steffen stated, “Yeah, she was a great pitcher. She threw hard but she can have all the strikeouts she gets. I throw so my team can play defense behind me and they did it again tonight.”
The Blazers built a 4-0 lead on the Wildcats with that tenacious defense, never committing an error and grabbing a couple balls that might have sneaked past them on any given night. Even though they did give Meyer 13 strikeouts in the game, they also got four hits off her and made every one count.
But in the first two innings, it looked like Meyer would have her way. Only Shea Steffen could coax a walk from her in the first seven at bats. After the final two batters fanned in the top of the third, Heather Boeckenstedt’s second time at bat produced a double to center. The speedy Blazer quickly stole third and scored the first run on a Wildcat error.
In the top of the fifth frame, the Blazers did their most damage. Eighth grader Shea Steffen singled to center. Two outs later, Nell McDermott waited for a walk and Steffen was subbed at second by Abby Knepper. That brought up Boeckenstedt again, who answered with an RBI-single to plate Knepper. Jadyn Welling followed with a single that the center fielder mis-handled allowing both McDermott and Boeckenstedt to cross the plate, making the score 4-0.
“I always have faith that we will get the hit we need,” glowed Boeckenstedt. “I have been in a kind of slump lately and it was great to get out of it on a night like this.”
Accounting for three of the runs scored — she got out of her slump big time. So much so that a fan on the sidelines commented in the next inning, “At least number five won’t be up to bat again.”
But the Blazers still had the bottom of three innings to outlast the No. 2 team. In the bottom of the fifth, they opened with base hits from Kira Schult and Ruby Kappeler. When Ally Happ singled, Schult scored but that Blazer defense tagged Happ at second for their first out. Hannah Happ waited for a walk, but was also tagged at second on a steal attempt. Allie Poston singled to center to plate Kappeler and make the mark 4-2 but Sydney Steffen got Paige Werthman to ground out back to her for the third out.
That’s when the Wildcats found out just how tough a 10th-ranked team could be. In the bottom of the sixth, Sydney Steffen faced three batters and put down all three, one with a strikeout. She repeated that feat in the bottom of the final frame, fanning the final batter with four pitches. And the celebration began. The Blazers raced to the circle and surrounded Steffen and huddled together until coach Ryan Meissner could work them free for the obligatory handshake with the Durant team.
Meissner added, “This is amazing and it’s all on them. How do you describe what you’re feeling at this point? They have worked so hard to get to this point. It’s all been a process and the process has worked. If you would have seen our batting practice the last couple of days, it was downright ugly. But it worked tonight. They all came through.
“My two seniors — what can I say about them? Five years of dedication and heart break. This time, finally, we didn’t end up 60 feet short.”
Steffen ended with five strikeouts of her own, gave up six hits and walked the same batter (Hannah Happ) three times for her only passes. Meyer gave up those four hits and also walked three batters.
The win sends the 29-13 Blazers as a No. 5 seed to face No.4 seed Mount Ayr at 3:30 p.m. July 22 in Fort Dodge.