Photo by Jeff Yoder
Your Prep Sports
CEDAR RAPIDS – There was a time not so long ago when Jeff Koenig’s greatest weapon as the City High softball coach was his positive energy.
His upbeat approach helped the program grind through the early stages when winning often was beyond reach.
Koenig’s approach hasn’t changed, but the talent on the Little Hawk roster certainly has as evidenced by Saturday’s performance against Cedar Rapids Prairie.
City High pounded 18 hits and cruised to a 16-8 victory in a Class 5A Regional semifinal at Prairie. The Little Hawks led 13-1 heading to the bottom of third inning after having scored four runs in each of the first two innings and five runs in the third.
City High improved to 23-18 and is just one victory from clinching a berth to the state tournament for the first time since 2001.
The Little Hawks will host Linn-Mar on Tuesday with the winner advancing to the state tournament in Fort Dodge.
Linn-Mar advanced to the regional final by upsetting Cedar Rapids Kennedy 4-3 on Saturday at Kennedy.
“That’s what these girls at the beginning of the season, they said we just want a chance to get to Fort Dodge,” Koenig said. “And now to play it at home in front of a great crowd, look at the crowd we brought tonight. And now we’re going to be in our backyard.
“We’re going to fill that place and it’s going to be a hard place to play. And you know what, we’re going to get after it.”
The Little Hawks got after it early and often on offense in Saturday’s game, which lasted for over two hours because of all the base hits and runs that were scored.
Koenig’s daughter, freshman catcher Carey Koenig, led the way by driving in five runs on four hits, including a two-run triple that sparked the five-run flurry in the third inning.
Junior second baseman Keli Potter drove in four runs and nearly hit for the cycle with a triple, single and a home run, while No. 9 hitter Makayla Ribble had three hits, including two doubles, and scored two runs.
“I feel like this is a hitting team first and foremost,” Jeff Koenig said. “We play defense and pitch well, too, but we like to hit. That’s our goal is hitting.
“I just feel like when we can square up balls early, it just completely loosens us up and we start hitting the ball in the air and then it’s a good thing.”
City High wasn’t a hitting team, or a pitching team, when Jeff Koenig was hired as head coach in 2015. It was a major struggle early on, but Koenig’s optimism never wavered.
Carey Koenig often would attend practices and sit on the bench during games before joining the varsity team and she credits her father’s positive approach for helping to persevere through the tough times.
“That’s what just kept us going; he’s never ever let any negativity in,” Carey Koenig said. “He’s always just been so positive and that’s just helped us. When we’ve been playing not at our best, he’s just there positive and looking at the bright side of things. It just helps us to keep winning.”
The Little Hawks jumped all over Prairie starter Nicole Sullivan for 12 runs and nine hits before she was pulled from the game in the third inning.
Prairie showed some signs of life by scoring five runs in the bottom of the third inning, slicing the deficit to 13-6.
But then City High pitcher Ayana Lindsey quelled the comeback bid by holding Prairie scoreless in three of the final four innings.
And now the Little Hawks get to host a game with a trip to the state tournament on the line.
“My gosh, I can’t even fathom what it’s going to be like,” Jeff Koenig said of the atmosphere for Tuesday’s game. “I can’t even fathom it. I’m anticipating it being over the top, incredible.”
Potter also looks forward to playing such an important game at home.
“It means so much,” Potter said. “I really believe in us. It’s so cool to be on this team and to have the opportunity to go to state. And have it at our house.”
Jeff Koenig was also quick to temper the enthusiasm after Saturday’s victory because he knows there is a very good opponent still standing in the way.
City High and Linn-mart split a doubleheader during the regular season.
“That’s the thing is they have to understand, just because we play at home; Prairie played at home tonight, Kennedy played at home tonight, none of those things matter,” Jeff Koenig said. “It’s a one game take all for us. But I’d rather be nowhere else with these girls than Tuesday night.
“This is a great, great group of girls, and that Prairie team is a good team. They held us in check whenever it was and mentally we had to flush that and we had to come out and say, hey, just trust that we’ll hit the ball, we’ll find balls to square up, and when we do, things will happen and they did.”
Jeff Koenig was referring to Prairie having recently swept City High in a doubleheader. Prairie also had won eight of its previous 10 games with Nicole Sullivan doing much of the pitching.
“Ever since the last game, we had been focusing on how to hit her pitches, and I guess it really helped,” Potter said.
Potter also thinks it helped getting swept by Prairie during the regular season.
“Honestly, it did because every day at practice we knew we had to face them and we just did everything to prepare,” Potter said. “We looked at the videos and we just learned from our mistakes and now we did it.”
And now the Little Hawks have a chance to so something even more spectacular at home.
“Just being able to play the game at home, I know we’re going to get a big crowd,” Carey Koenig said. “It’s just insane.”
City High 445 102 1 – 16 18 2
CR Prairie 105 002 0 – 8 14 2
Ayana Lindsey and Carey Koenig; Nicole Sullivan, Lindsey Clausen (3), Riley Sauser (6) and Jensyn Jones.
2B – ICH: Makayla Ribble (2)
3B – ICH: Carey Koenig (2), Keli Potter; CRP: Morgan Lewis
HR – ICH: Keli Potter