OSCEOLA — Ries Wilson opened the game with a single. Alivia Haley followed with a double. Amy Russell drove in both with her Class 1A-leading 14th home run of the season.
The first three batters in the Class 1A Region 8 championship game produced three runs for the No. 11 Colfax-Mingo softball team, and it would be only the beginning of a dominant effort by the Tigerhawks.
Wilson, Haley and Russell combined to go 9-of-13 with seven RBIs and seven runs scored at the plate, and Colfax-Mingo drubbed No. 10 Murray, 13-2, on a hot and steamy night at Clarke High School on July 10.
“We couldn’t have written a better start,” Colfax-Mingo coach Bryan Poulter said. “We took control of the game from the very first three batters. We didn’t run it away it right away, but it sent a strong message. The depth of our batting order is tough to face.
“This wasn’t just a top of the order victory today. We got production from everyone tonight, but the first five or six batters just presents a lot of problems.”
The Tigerhawks (25-11) clinched their first state tournament berth since winning the title in 2001.
They enter the tourney as the No. 5 seed and will play fourth-seeded and seventh-ranked Westwood (29-10) at Harlan and Hazel Rogers Sports Complex at 1 p.m. Monday in Fort Dodge.
Colfax-Mingo got some redemption one year after losing in the regional final by a single run to Martensdale-St. Marys.
The Tigerhawks are one of four South Iowa Cedar League teams to advance to state Monday. Joining Colfax-Mingo will be No. 12 Belle Plaine, Sigourney and Montezuma.
“Isn’t that something,” Poulter said. “It certainly now looks like it was an underrated league. Kudos to the SICL and to all four teams going. Once you get there, anything can happen.”
Russell three-run home run in the first inning gave her 14 on the season. She finished with six RBIs on the night and took a no-hitter into the fifth inning.
“There was some pressure coming in,” Russell said. “I have worked all five of my years to get to this point so it’s good to see it pay off in my last year.”
Murray (28-6) came into the game winners of 11 straight games but were no match for a Colfax-Mingo team which scored three runs in the first, three in the fourth, two in the fifth, one in the sixth and four in the seventh to win going away.
“We got our redemption from last year,” Rhiannon Haley said. “The start was big. I feel like that gave us a good vibe from the start.”
Russell hit Murray lead-off hitter Hailey Chew with two strikes in the first inning. She took second on a sacrifice bunt, and then scored when Breianna Klein hit the ball to the outfield but was thrown out at first by sophomore Braedynn Rawlins.
A double play helped Russell get through the second inning despite allowing one of her four walks. She retired the Mustangs in order in the third and then pitched around a lead-off walk in the fourth.
Murray’s Kendra Boles reached on a Tigerhawk throwing error in the fifth, moved up a base after a walk and then scored on the Mustangs’ first hit of the game.
That’s all Murray could muster against Russell, who improved to 17-4 in the circle.
Russell allowed one earned run on three hits with three strikeouts, four walks and a hit by pitch against a Murray squad that came into the night batting .350 as a team.
“It was hard to really know how I was pitching until about the fifth inning,” Russell said. “It was hot. I couldn’t grip the ball or the rosin bag. But I pushed through it.”
Colfax-Mingo batted around in the fourth. With one out, Rawlins reached on an error and then the top of the order went back to work.
Wilson got her third hit of the game to put two on and then Haley made it 4-0 with an RBI double. Russell’s two-run double pushed the lead to 6-0.
“It feels amazing. I am really glad we were able to do this for our seniors,” Wilson said. “Last year was a really tough loss. We carried that with us the entire year. This is an amazing feeling. I am glad we were able to get this done for Coach Poulter and for our community. It’s been a long time since we were able to say that a Colfax-Mingo team played at state.”
The Tigerhawks left the bases loaded, but the damage had already been done. Colfax-Mingo stranded 12 runners on base in the game.
In the fifth, sophomore Delaney Underwood led off with a walk. She moved up a base on a Rawlins sacrifice bunt. Wilson walked and then Haley singled to load the bases.
Russell walked in a run for her sixth RBI of the night and then junior Rhiannon Haley made it 8-1 with a sacrifice fly to left field. Rhiannon Haley’s flyout was caught at the fence.
“I am surprised teams are still pitching to me, but with Alivia in front of me and Rhiannon behind me, there’s not much else to do,” Russell said. “We all can hit the ball hard.”
The Tigerhawks added one run in the sixth. Sophomore Chelsea Russell drew a two-out walk and then scored on another Murray miscue.
In the seventh, Colfax-Mingo sent nine batters to the plate and scored four runs.
Alivia Haley led off the frame with her fourth hit. She went to third after a double by her younger sister and then scored on a wild pitch. Sophomore Mac Brown drove in Rhiannon Haley with an RBI single. Underwood capped the scoring with a two-run double that went over Kelli Romero’s head in center field.
Poulter is in his 18th season as head coach of the Tigerhawks. This will be his second trip to Fort Dodge.
“The agony of defeat is far different than the joy of victory,” Poulter said. “Doing this for so long, you have an utmost respect for the game and for the process. It’s not a simple matter to get there. But we got there. It’s a relief more than anything.”
Colfax-Mingo 8, Grand View Christian 7 (8 innings)
COLFAX — On a night when the bats controlled the game on both sides, a defensive play in the top of the eighth inning proved to be one of the most important.
Grand View Christian’s Sydney Lane led off the eighth inning with a double, but a textbook relay throw was executed to perfection by the Tigerhawks.
Lane’s hard hit ball got over the head of Rawlins in right field, but the Tigerhawk sophomore stayed with it. She threw the ball to the cut off player, and Alivia Haley then flipped it to sophomore Colbee Cunningham for a big out at third base.
That allowed Amy Russell to do what she does best in the bottom of the eighth.
Russell’s solo home run with one out sent the Tigerhawks to a dramatic 8-7 victory over the Thunder in the 1A Region 8 semifinals on July 7.
Russell hit a two-run blast earlier in the game to bring her season total to 13.
“There shouldn’t be a spectator here that didn’t go away tonight saying that wasn’t a fun softball game to watch,” Poulter said. “It was a great game to win and a tough one to lose.
“Congrats to Grand View Christian on a great season. They have made great strides from the beginning of the season. They played a great game. They battled tonight.”
Russell finished 4-for-4 at the plate to raise her season average to .534.
Russell also scored three runs and got the win in the circle.
The Tigerhawk senior only retired the Thunder in order three times in the game, but two of those came in the seventh and eighth innings.
Colfax-Mingo sent its 2-3-4 hitters Alivia Haley, Russell and Rhiannon Haley to the plate in the bottom half of the eighth needing just one run to win it. Poulter felt good about that situation.
“You go into that part of the lineup feeling strong about it,” Poulter said about a trio who has combined for 27 home runs and 126 RBIs this season. “Our first four or five batters can drive the ball and hit doubles. They have good bat sense and perform under pressure well.
“I didn’t take it for granted, but when Amy Russell is batting, as a coach, you feel like she’s going to give the very best chance to succeed that you have on the team. She’s an exceptional hitter, an exceptional player.”
But Russell’s heroics in extra innings may not have been possible without the defensive play in the top half of the frame.
“That was a big relay throw. We know Braedynn has a strong arm. She hit the spot head on and then Alivia fired it to third,” Poulter said. “All three of those components have to come together in that situation, and they did. That was a huge play. Otherwise, there’s no outs with a runner on third. That was a real momentum swing on our side.”
The Tigerhawks were able to take advantage of the momentum with a dramatic come-from-behind win.
Colfax-Mingo scored first when Wilson and senior Alivia Haley hit back-to-back doubles in the first inning.
Grand View Christian came right back with a pair of runs in the second and two more in the third to go up 4-1.
In the bottom of the third, Alivia Haley led off with a walk before Russell’s first homer of the game made it 4-3. Alivia Haley was 3-for-4 with two runs, one RBI and one walk in the win.
The Tigerhawks tied the game later in the third when Underwood drove in Brown with an RBI single. Underwood also doubled and laid down a sacrifice bunt in the game.
Russell’s first 1-2-3 inning came in the fourth. That allowed Colfax-Mingo to regain the lead in the bottom half of the inning. With two outs, Alivia Haley singled, went to second on a passed ball and then took third on an error.
Russell drove her in with an RBI single. Rhiannon Haley kept the train moving with a single and then Cunningham made it 6-4 with an RBI single that scored Russell.
The Thunder responded in the top of the fifth. They went back in front with three runs. The first two batters reached before Russell got two of the next three hitters by strikeout. No. 9 hitter Karlie Knode delivered a two-run single with two outs to give the visitors the lead.
Both pitchers battled a tight strike zone, forcing them to throw more pitches down the middle of the plate. There were nine total walks in the game.
Wilson made sure the Tigerhawks wouldn’t stay down for long. She led off the sixth frame with her third homer of the season, a solo shot that easily cleared the fence in left field.
Alivia Haley and Russell followed Wilson’s homer with back-to-back singles, but the game remained tied after Thunder eighth-grader Emma Heffron got three straight outs.
Alivia Haley was retired for the first time in the eighth before Russell won it with a deep drive to right field.
The win gave Colfax-Mingo a three-game sweep of the Thunder this season. The final game was the most competitive as there weren’t a lot of secrets on either side.
Colfax-Mingo 11, Griswold 1 (6 innings)
COLFAX — Russell homered and earned the win in the circle on July 5 during the Colfax-Mingo softball team’s 11-1 win over Griswold during the quarterfinals.
Russell’s two hits produced three RBIs, and she scored two runs in the victory.
The Tigerhawks led 3-0 after one inning and then went up 4-1 after four innings. They ended the game after six innings with a two-run fifth inning and a five-run sixth frame.
Colfax-Mingo had 12 hits at the plate and took advantage of seven Griswold (8-23) errors. Eighth-grader Madison Gilkison and Rawlins both had two hits at the plate. Gilkison also had two RBIs.
Seven of the 11 runs scored by Colfax-Mingo came from the top three hitters in the lineup — Wilson, Alivia Haley and Russell. Wilson and Haley each had one hit and scored twice, and Haley tallied two RBIs.
Cunningham started in the circle and allowed one run on four hits with three walks and three strikeouts in 2 1/3 innings.
Russell tossed the final 3 2/3 innings and surrendered no runs on one hit with six strikeouts and two walks.