FORT DODGE — “After the dust settles I think we will realize the value of what we have accomplished, but right now the sting of how we lost this game is all I think we are feeling.”
That was the summation of Perry head coach Tina Kenney after the 15th-ranked Jayettes (25-14) surrendered seven runs in the final two innings in falling to Charles City (26-11) in the Class 4A fifth-place game at the State Softball Tournament Thursday.
Both teams had advanced with 6-0 victories earlier in the day in their respective consolation semifinals, with unranked Charles City topping No. 13 Heelan Catholic while Perry rode 16 strikeouts from Emma Olejniczak to blank No. 14 Creston.
Perry held a 6-4 lead entering the top of the sixth. A 90-minute time limit is in effect at the state tourney in all consolation games, and both teams knew that, barring at least two runs from the Comets, the Jayettes would finish the season in fifth place.
Unfortunately for Perry, Charles City plated exactly two runs, and when the Jayettes could not score in the bottom of the frame, the seventh inning was played under the “International Rule” in which the batter making the last out in the prior frame would start the next inning on second base.
Olejniczak had thrown a total of 13 frame in the blistering heat by that point, with Kenney turning to sophomore Sid Vancil, who had tossed 16.2 innings all season.
A charged-up Comet team erupted for five runs on four hits to seize an 11-6 lead. Perry replied with a quick run, but could not score four more and fell, 11-7, to place sixth among the 48 schools playing 4A softball.
Kenney said the emotional upset at the manner of the loss, especially with victory so close, would likely temporarily blur the view of what was an exceptional season.
Perry, playing in their first state tourney since placing third in 1999, exceeded the expectations of most observers by winning 25 games in returning to the Rogers Sports Complex.
Seniors Victoria Hegstrom and Maddy Jans played the final two games of their prep career Thursday, and while their considerable contributions will be missed, the future looks quite bright for the Jayettes.
“What we were able to do this year is very rewarding and it opens some doors for us in the future,” Kenney said. “It shows what we are capable of achieving and I am sure this experience will only help us.”
Two Jayette errors allowed the Comets to plate a run in the top of the first, but Perry countered by loading the bases in their first at-bat as Jo Diw walked, Alyssa Kruger singled and Rachel Kinney walked. A wild pitch allowed Diw to score, but freshman Samantha Heyer — who had thrown only 18 innings in the season — replaced senior Megan Roethler and got out of the jam without further damage.
Taylor Schmidt hit a solo home run in the third for a 2-1 Comet lead, but Perry scored four times to post a 5-2 advantage.
Olejniczak drew a two-out walk and moved to third when Hegstrom reached on a two-base error. Jans followed with a double to the fence in left field to plate both runners, with Brooke Huntington driving in Jans with a base hit. Gabby West was inserted at second base as a courtesy runner for catcher Huntington and scored when her older sister, Maddie, reached on an infield throwing error for a four-run Jayette lead.
The Comets closed to within 5-4 on two hits, a passed ball and a wild pitch in the fourth, but Kruger walked and eventually worked her way around the bases to score on three passed balls.
That set the stage for the two-run sixth as two hits and a passed ball with two outs allowing the runs to score. The Comets stunned the Jayettes with five runs in the top of the seventh, with Rachel Kinney’s RBI-single that plated Kruger all Perry could muster in the bottom of the frame.
Heyer went six innings, allowing six runs (one earned) on three hits and six walks while striking out two in collecting the win in the circle for the Comets, who were playing at state for the first time since 2009.
Jans’ two-run double, RBI-singles from Huntington and Kinney and a Kruger single were the only hits for Perry.
Vancil suffered the loss, yielding five runs (four earned) on four hits and a hit batsmen while tossing the seventh.
Olejniczak had been touched for six runs (three earned) on six hits and four walks while striking out 10. The junior pitched 19 combined innings at the tourney, allowing nine runs (five earned) on 16 hits and six walks with an impressive 32 strikeouts. She recorded 315 strikeouts in 230.2 total innings this season and will enter her senior year with 881 career strikeouts to her credit.
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