If the Western Dubuque Bobcats were underdogs entering the Class 4A, Region 7 semifinal at West Delaware, July 13, it sure didn’t look that way in the early going.
“We were confident heading into the game,” said Western Dubuque coach Rachael Neal. “We prepared a lot for what we were going to see from West Delaware and knew it would take consistent execution to win.”
Western Dubuque got off the bus ready to roll, scoring three runs in the top of the first inning. When Abigail Kluesner pounded a solo home run to center field in the second, it was 4-1, but that was the end of the Bobcat scoring. West Delaware got it going offensively, scoring two runs in the third, three in the fourth and three more in the sixth on the way to a 9-4 win.
“We came out strong offensively, defensively and on the mound,” said Neal. “However, we weren’t able to maintain the consistency all game and it hurt us.”
The Bobcats jumped on West Delaware starter Macey Kleitsch before the crowd settled in, taking advantage of three Hawk errors in the first on the way to a three-run lead.
Leadoff hitter Sara Horsfield reached on an error and advanced to second on Amy Kane’s sacrifice bunt. After Ella Link reached on another error, putting runners on first and third, Jenna Hoefler singled home Horsfield and advanced Link to third.
Hoefler then swiped second before Hallie Wilgenbusch hit a sharp ground ball to West Delaware shortstop Claire Demmer, but the throw to first sailed high and to the fence allowing Link and Hoefler to score.
West Delaware answered with a run in the bottom of the inning to make it 3-1, but when designated hitter Kluesner cleared the fence it was 4-1 and the momentum was all Bobcats.
Western Dubuque starter Sydney Kennedy kept the Hawks in check in the bottom of the second, but West Delaware’s Heather Heims’ two-run bomb to left made it 4-3 in the third.
Kleitsch settled into a nice rhythm in the circle, and after getting the final two outs of the third by strikeout, put the Bobcats down in order in the fourth.
West Delaware grabbed the lead in the bottom of the inning when Heims — who had seven RBIs on the night — knocked in a pair on a fielder’s choice play at the plate that led to the ball reaching the backstop before Eva Winn’s RBI single made it 6-4.
After Kleitsch had another perfect frame in the top of the inning, Heims and Winn came up big for the Hawks again in the fifth, as Heims’ two-run double to left-center made it 8-4 and Winn’s RBI double to the same spot — her fourth hit of the contest — stretched the advantage to 9-4.
“They were able to get the lead-off batter on base a lot to start innings, whether it was a walk, hit or error, and that put pressure on us defensively to come up with big plays,” said Neal. “We did a nice job of getting out of some jams, but were not able to every time.”
Hoefler gave Western Dubuque some life with a leadoff single in the sixth, but the Bobcats failed to mount a serious threat as West Delaware right-fielder Eve Wedewer’s running catch of Kluesner’s line drive to right-center ended the inning.
Meredith Hoerner relieved Kennedy and pitched a scoreless sixth before Kleitsch again put the Bobcats down in order in the seventh to end things.
Offensively, Western Dubuque had four hits. Hoefler was 2-for-3 with one RBI, Kluesner 1-for-3 with a home run and Kennedy 1-for-3. Wilgenbusch had two RBIs.
Kennedy threw five innings, allowing nine runs — seven earned — on 12 hits while striking out eight and walking three. Hoerner allowed one hit and struck out two.
The Bobcats ended the season 19-19 as West Delaware moved to the Region 7 final at 29-10.
“Overall, I’m proud of how hard the girls worked this season. We only returned four starters, so for a lot of them, this wasn’t just their first regional game experience, it was their first varsity experience this season,” said Neal. “They were a fun group of girls who really loved the game. “Our first season in the MVC we were able to get some quality wins against quality opponents and we have a lot to build from for next season.”
“Our four seniors (Lexi Banks, Kaci Wolf, Hanna Theisen and Hoefler) were awesome and truly dedicated to Bobcat softball the past five years,” added Neal. “They had a team mentality and left a positive legacy on our program.”