A four-run first inning gave Western Dubuque pitcher Sydney Kennedy all the cushion she needed as the hard-throwing sophomore allowed only two hits and struck out 13 Maquoketa hitters in a 5-1 Class 4A, Region 7 win at Farley Park, July 11.

“It was so big to get off to a good start, because when we get ahead we are so confident,” said Kennedy. “We play better because it’s a boost to us.”

“We talked a lot about how yes, this is the postseason, but at the same time it’s the same game we’ve been playing all year,” said Western Dubuque coach Rachael Neal. “Scoring early and putting the pressure on them early helps us defensively as well.”

The Bobcats jumped ahead thanks to the heroics of Kennedy and Jenna Hoefler. After Sara Horsfield coaxed a walk from Maquoketa starter Carlene Paul, Amy Kane advanced her to second with a single.

Kennedy then showed she is a threat at the plate as well as in the circle, doubling sharply to left to score Horsfield and Kane to give the Bobcats a 2-0 advantage. That set the stage for Hoefler, who made it 4-0 with a no-doubt-about-it two-run homer to right.

“I got what I was looking for inside on the first pitch,” said Hoefler. “It felt really good. It’s only the second home run of my high school career, but it felt like it was going out all the way.”

“That was a shot,” said Neal. “She did a nice job of attacking. At this point of the year the kids are confident in their abilities and that has extended to their preparation. I think you saw that tonight.”

This one wasn’t without a few tense moments for the Bobcats. Kennedy got out of an early jam in the second after Maquoketa’s Claire Heckman doubled to lead off and Tenley Cavanaugh followed with a single, but three consecutive strikeouts ended the threat with no damage done, stranding Cardinal runners on second and third.

Maquoketa did put a run on the board in the fourth when Kennedy walked the first two runners, but again, she worked out of a jam with three strikeouts, as the Cardinals again left runners on second and third.

“I don’t really worry about the runners. I like more pressure because it forces me to be better,” said Kennedy. “It forces me to focus more.”

“What I liked most about Sydney tonight was that she stepped up in clutch situations,” said Neal. “She took it upon herself to get the outs we needed.”

Kennedy was nearly flawless the rest of the way, as a fifth-inning walk provided Maquoketa the only base runner in the final three innings.

“We call it my zone. It happens when I get nervous or have a big game,” said Kennedy. “The adrenaline gets flowing.”

Kennedy again doubled to lead off the Western Dubuque half of the fifth, and scored on a double to deep center field by Hallie Wilgenbush. With Kennedy in her zone, it was 5-1 with little doubt of the outcome.

WD had 10 hits. Kennedy was 2-for-4 with two RBIs, Hoefler 1-for-3 with a two-run home run, Wilgenbusch 2-for-3 with one RBI, Horsfield 2-for-3, Kane 2-for-4 and Jacie Walters 1-for-3.

WD advanced to play West Delaware (see story on page 1B).