From the Press Box: The sweet and the sour from state softball

How the media struck out at state tournament

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Opinion and Insight

Despite the heat — and, as anyone who knows me will attest, I revile the heat — it was my thrill to cover the Perry Jayettes and their recent sixth-place finish in Fort Dodge last week. I had not been to Harlan Rogers Complex in a journalistic capacity since 2003 and was excited to return.

I was there, in 1992, when LDF-SEMCO (who became East Marshall the next season) placed fourth in the 16-team one-class tourney. In ’94 three classes were created, and I covered East Marshall placing second that year and third in ’95, then saw West Marshall grab third in ’96. Eldora-New Providence (now a part of South Hardin) brought me to Fort Dodge when they placed fourth in 2000, with BCLUW (second in ’01) and West Marshall (7th in both ’02 and ’03) also sending me to the famed venue, where four classes first appeared in 2004 and five in 2012.



My concern I would never return was silenced this summer by a special group of players who overcame a brutal conference schedule to finish sixth in Class 4A. Had the Jayettes turned two runners on base in the first inning into two runs against eventual champion Oskaloosa in the quarterfinals I firmly believe Perry would have beaten Fairfield in the semis, gone on to the title game, and just might have won it.

“How can you say that?” you ask. Carlisle (who won the top half of the bracket) beat Perry 7-2 and 5-0 in the regular season. “Surely they would have won a third meeting?”

Probably. In fact, they most likely would have. But once the postseason starts — especially the state tournament — the unlikely outcome is far more common than many realize.

Perry was 0-2 against Carlisle, Boone, ADM and Winterset in Raccoon River Conference play this year and the Jayettes, ranked 15th, only cranked the rankings in the final poll of the regular season.

My point? Top-ranked Carlisle beat Boone, 11-2 and 11-7 in the regular season but then had to scratch out a 9-8 win in the state semifinals. And, without having to pitch 13 innings within four hours in blistering heat, who knows what kind of an effort Perry ace Emma Olejniczak may have tossed had been reached the finals? An argument could be made (and I will, keep reading) that she was the dominant pitcher in the 4A tourney.

ADM and Winterset nearly made the tourney, which would have given the RRC five of their eight teams in Fort Dodge, cementing the league’s reputation as the toughest in the state, regardless of class. As it was, RRC teams finished 2-4-6. Third-ranked ADM was eliminated by Heelan Catholic (eighth) and No. 2 Winterset by Creston (seventh), the team Perry thumped, 6-0, in the consolation semis. The Tigers and Huskies were, therefore, just two of the 42 other teams in 4A who finished behind the Jayettes.

The 15th ranked Perry Jayettes (25-14) finished sixth in the Class 4A State Tournament in Fort Dodge Thursday. Kneeling, from left: Jayden Whitney, Jo Diw, Maddy Jans, VIctoria Hegstrom, Brooke Huntington and Sid Vancil. Standing, from left: head coach Tina Kenney, assistant coach Alissa Bahney, T.J. Sheehy, Emma Olejniczak, Alyssa Kruger, Rachel Kinney, Gabby West, Maddie West, Adriana Eastman and assistant coach Ashley Fricke.
The 15th ranked Perry Jayettes (25-14) finished sixth in the Class 4A State Tournament in Fort Dodge Thursday. Kneeling, from left: Jayden Whitney, Jo Diw, Maddy Jans, VIctoria Hegstrom, Brooke Huntington and Sid Vancil. Standing, from left: head coach Tina Kenney, assistant coach Alissa Bahney, T.J. Sheehy, Emma Olejniczak, Alyssa Kruger, Rachel Kinney, Gabby West, Maddie West, Adriana Eastman and assistant coach Ashley Fricke.

The circumstances that cost Perry fifth place were unusual at best. Olejniczak was, understandably, sapped after 13 innings in the brutal conditions, and while Sid Vancil did her best in a sudden fill-in role in the seventh inning, she could not have been expected to be as sharp, having thrown less than 20 innings all season.

In no way should the Jayettes, who finished 25-14, hang their heads. They rose up in the postseason to crush No. 7 Norwalk on the Warriors own diamond, then ruined the five-year run of three-time champion DC-G with a brilliant effort in the Region 7 Final. Once at state, they nearly knocked off the eventual champs, crushed the team that had taken out Winterset and then simply ran out of gas to Charles City, a team making their 25th all-time appearance at the state tourney.

The regular season saw Perry finish 21-12 overall, but 16-3 outside of the RRC. Along the way they defeated 2A state champion Van Meter, 9-6, then — inspired, several players said, by what they felt was a dismissive pre-game attitude — demolished 1A state titleist Kee, 10-0, in six innings at the Decorah tourney. Perry hammered the KeeHawk ace for 13 hits in the shutout while Olejniczak allowed just two hits and two walks and struck out 12.

Every member of the team played some role in the three games at state, whether providing key hits (Jo Diw was 5-for-9 with four runs while Maddy Jans and Alyssa Kruger were both 3-for-10), playing a role defensively — each starter had at least one putout or assist — or scoring a run.

Reserve players Jayden Whitney, T.J. Sheehy and Gabby West scored as pinch or courtesy runners, with Adriana Eastman also in as a runner once. All were vocal in the dugout in supporting their teammates.

Emma Olejniczak has reason to smile: Her 16-strikeout gem against Creston in the consolation semifinals set a 4A state tourney record for most strikeouts in a seven-inning game. It is almost the most strikeouts in a seven-inning game, in any class, since the tourney went to five classes in 2012.
Emma Olejniczak has reason to smile: The Perry junior’s 16-strikeout gem against Creston in the consolation semifinals set a 4A state tourney record for most strikeouts in a seven-inning game. It is also the most strikeouts in a seven-inning game, in any class, since the tourney went to five classes in 2012.

The media votes for the All-Tourney team in each class. Sadly, many of my fellows do not, in my view, take this seriously enough and do not observe or take note of the other games being played and care only for the ones in front of them. Not having a single player from the consolation side of the bracket is the norm, but this year, at least, was a shame, as Olejniczak should have made the team.

Emma set a state tourney record for most strikeouts in a seven-inning game (16 against Creston) in 4A play, which is also the most in a seven-inning game since five classes were added in 2012. The four-class record of 18 by Okoboji’s Ashley Potter in 2005 and the 18 tallies by Woodward-Granger’s Jen Bice in 1997 as the all-time best are the only two efforts to top the Jayette junior’s gem.

Oskaloosa’s Alexis Groet was brilliant in leading the Indians to a state title and deserved all the recognition she received. My beef is that Olejniczak was, in this instance at least, overlooked.

When it comes strictly to pitching stats, Groet and Olejniczak were, far and away, the class of the class. Groet tossed 21 innings, allowing seven runs (four earned) on 11 hits while Olejniczak went 20 innings, yielding nine runs (five earned) on 16 hits. Groet walked seven and Olejniczak six, with both striking out a total of 32. You can see the stats for each pitcher in the tourney — if you want to go through the trouble of compiling them yourself — www.ighsau.org.

Some credit is clearly due to where your team finishes, but of the three pitchers selected, only Olejniczak had pitched twice in the same day in the stifling heat.

She ends the season second in 4A with 315 strikeouts and has 878 for her career, so more kudos will come next season, and not just for her, as several players as individuals and the Jayettes as a team are far from done when it comes to drawing attention to themselves.

Congrats to all the girls, and to head coach Tina Kenney and assistants Ashley Fricke and Allisa Bahney, for a fantastic season — even if I did have to sweat quite a bit.

 

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