Photo by Jeff Yoder
Your Prep Sports
TROY MILLS – Nothing in the sport of softball puts Paisley Gardner’s stomach in a knot quite like a regional championship.
“I’m very scared of these games,” Gardner said. “I was panicking when we were coming here.”
Nothing seems to bring out the best in Gardner better than a regional final either.
For the second year in a row Gardner had the key hit in a Regina regional final win blasting a two-run double in the ninth inning that lifted No. 10 Regina (23-15) to a 2-0 win over No. 9 North Linn (38-5) in a 2A, Region 6 thriller on Monday in Troy Mills.
“I’m so nervous for these games so to finally get a good hit at the end of the game to win it feels amazing,” Gardner said. “I can’t wait to play at Fort Dodge again.”
Last year it was a three-run opposite field home run by Gardner that sparked Regina to a 5-0 win over Dyersville Beckman in the regional final.
On Monday it was double that stayed just fair down the left field line that sent defending 2A champion Regina back to the state tournament for the fourth consecutive season.
Regina will face fifth-ranked Alta-Aurelia (22-3) in a 2A state quarterfinal on Monday at 5:30 p.m. at Rogers Sports Complex in Fort Dodge.
“We have all the confidence in Paisley to come through in those big situations and she definitely picked me up,” Regina junior pitcher Katie Bracken said. “I wasn’t hitting the best and she picked me up.”
Bracken outdueled North Linn sophomore Abby Flanagan in a classic pitchers’ duel.
Neither team had a hit until the eighth inning and the two teams combined for five hits and 20 strikeouts.
Bracken fanned six in a nine-inning two-hit shutout that pushed her scoreless inning streak to 26.
“She is an elite pitcher, we told her that from the start,” Koolbeck said. “Our pitching coach Alyssa Olson has told her over and over just get out of your head, leave it in the dugout and go throw your game and tonight she did it. She showed why she should be one of the pitchers in the state and we are lucky to have her in there.”
Flanagan equaled Bracken every step of the way.
The North Linn sophomore retired the first 16 hitters she saw and didn’t allow a hit until a two-out infield single by Annie Gahan in the eighth.
“It was mostly her speed and the way she spun the ball,” Gardner said. “It was kind of hard to see.”
North Linn had a chance to win the game in the eighth when its only hits of the game, back-to-back singles by Natalie and Jenna Gallery and an intentional walk to pinch hitter Jill Smith loaded the bases with one out.
Bracken fielded an Olivia Rauch bunt and tossed to catcher Maeve Dunne the force out at home and got Maddie Woods to fly out to shallow left to end the inning.
I think since we’ve been in so many big situations that we are very composed,” Bracken said. “We are ready for those types of plays.”
Regina finally got to Flanagan the following inning.
Leadoff hitter Jess Hunter reached on an infield single with one out and Bracken drew a two-out walk.
Gardner provided the biggest hit of the game, a hooking two-run double that glanced off the glove of Faithe Cavalier who nearly made an outstanding diving catch right on the left field line.
“I watched when I turned to go to second base and I thought it was going foul because most of the time if I hit it to the left side it turns and goes foul,” Gardner said. “This one stayed in and I can’t believe it.”
Bracken retired the side in order in the ninth to secure the win, setting down the top three hitters in the North Linn order.
The loss snapped a 17-game winning streak for North Linn and was just the second time the Lynx had been shutout this season.
“I tried to not look at their stats,” Bracken said. “I didn’t really look at anything I just tried to come in and do my best job.”
Regina 000 000 002 – 2 3 1
North Linn 000 000 000 – 0 2 1
W – Katie Bracken L – Abby Flanagan
2B – ICR: Paisley Gardner