It wasn’t a typical game day for the Western Dubuque softball team heading into its non-conference meeting with Beckman in Dyersville, July 5, but things turned out just fine for the Bobcats. They took a 5-4 win over the Blazers in a dandy that had a tournament-type feel.
After playing a makeup contest at Cedar Rapids Xavier that morning, Bobcat coach Rachael Neal’s team looked ready to go early, jumping to a first inning lead it never relinquished, and survived a sixth-inning Beckman rally to defeat the Blazers for the first time since June 1, 2015.
“I’m very proud of my team and the way they handled things today,” said Neal. “It was hot and we had to go to Xavier, but they came back up here ready to play.”
‘“We knew facing a really talented Xavier team and a really talented Beckman team would help prepare us for the postseason,” added Neal. “Our girls turned a tough situation into a positive and did the best they could. They love the game of softball.”
Beckman coach Ryan Meissner liked the effort from his Blazers, but knows his team needs to clear things up defensively.
“I love the effort, but we’ve got to clean it up,” he said. “We can be a really good team, but not if we’re giving people four or five outs. We’re good but not that good.”
Ella Link’s two-run first inning home run — her third round tripper of the week — gave WD an early lead that eventually grew to 5-1 in the fifth inning before the Blazers got the crowd back into the game with three runs in the sixth.
The Bobcats entered the contest on an offensive roll, and when Sara Horsfield led off the game reaching on a tough chance that was mishandled in the infield, the table was set for Link — who responded with a shot that hit high on the left field scoreboard to give Western Dubuque an early 2-0 lead.
“Having Ella back in the lineup is big for us,” said Neal. “She’s a hitter a lot of teams fear and she chips in at first base for us as well.”
Beckman answered right away in the bottom of the inning. All-stater Heather Boeckenstedt drew a leadoff walk — and to nobody’s surprise — stole second and third before scoring on Jadyn Welling’s fielder’s choice ground ball to Hallie Wilgenbusch.
WD pushed the advantage to 4-1 in the fourth when Amy Kane singled and took second with one out. Sydney Kennedy’s hot grounder was again mishandled in the infield, allowing Kane to score on a close play at the plate before Jenna Hoefler’s single to center dropped between the Beckman defense, scoring Kennedy for a 4-1 lead.
The Bobcats stretched the advantage to 5-1 in the fifth when Link singled and courtesy runner Maddie Goodman advanced to second on Kennedy’s base hit. When Emma Gile’s grounder couldn’t be played in the infield, Goodman found her way home.
Kennedy looked to be in control, allowing only two hits through five innings before the Blazers caught fire in the sixth.
“We’re not going to quit. These girls battle every day,” said Meissner. “We play in the WaMaC Conference. We get tested every day.”
Beckman’s Sydney Steffen — who had settled into a nice rhythm of her own in the circle — drew a one-out walk in the bottom of the sixth and Kamryn Klas followed with a free pass of her own. When Emily Wulfekuhle reached on an infield error to load the bases, the stage was set, and eighth-grade DH Shea Steffen lined a sharp single to right-center to make it 5-3.
Kiersten Schmitt then hit a ball to the fence in center field that fell just out of reach of WD’s Horsfield — holding the runners in place — with the long single scoring Wulfekuhle to make it 5-4 with one out.
“I thought she was going to catch the ball, so we had everybody tag,” said Meissner. “As soon as we saw the ball go down we have to go. We just needed one more hit.”
Kennedy worked out of the jam with a strikeout for out two and an infield pop up for the third out, but the momentum was in Beckman’s corner heading to the seventh.
“Sydney (Kennedy) struggled a little bit, but instead of getting frustrated she just kept fighting for the win,” said Neal.
Steffen sat the Bobcats down in order in the top of the seventh with the heart of the Beckman lineup coming to the plate in the bottom half of the inning, but Kennedy had a flawless inning, getting a ground out, a pop up and a game-ending strikeout to secure the win.
Kennedy and Steffen were impressive on the mound, with Kennedy allowing four runs on four hits while striking out six and walking four, while Steffen allowed five runs on six hits, striking out three with no walks.
“Sydney (Steffen) got stronger as the game went on, which is what she normally does,” said Meissner. “As the night goes on, she gets better. It’s what she does.”
Offensively, Link led WD going 2-for-4 with a home run, Hoefler was 1-for-4 with one RBI, Horsfield, Kane and Kennedy 1-for-4 and Gile had one RBI.
Beckman’s offense was paced by Shea Steffen’s 1-for-3 two RBI performance. Kiersten Schmitt was 1-for-3 with one RBI, Welling 1-for-4 with one RBI and Nell McDermott 1-for-3.
“Winning a couple of close ones says a lot about our team and how much we’ve improved,” said Neal.