Photo by Jeff Yoder
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – Ella Cook was in sixth grade when the goal of playing in the state softball tournament sort of became a mission.
She was inspired to reach for that goal when her youth softball coach brought a program from the state softball tournament to a practice and then predicted that Cook and her cohorts would soon be there for City High.
“He showed us and said you guys are going to be right here when you get in high school,” Cook said in reference to Jeff Koenig, who now coaches the City High softball team.
Koenig’s bold prediction came true on Tuesday as the Little Hawks edged Linn-Mar 4-2 in a Class 5A Regional final, thanks largely to Cook’s two-run double in the bottom of the sixth inning.
“It’s so awesome, this has been like a goal of ours forever,” Ella Cook said.
The City High softball program was in shambles when Koenig took over in 2015. His teams struggled just to be competitive during the first two seasons, but the players never lost sight of their goal of making it to the state tournament.
The Little Hawks showed signs of progress last season, but struggled with consistency.
The current team also has struggled with consistency, but is now peaking at the right time despite having a lineup in which the first three batters are freshmen, including Cook, who bats second in the order.
“We wrote down stuff for this year and our last goal that we had a chance to complete, and we completed probably ninety percent of them, was to go to Fort Dodge,” Jeff Koenig said of the state tournament, which is held at Rogers Park in Fort Dodge. “And we started talking about that about a week ago, and we said, ‘hey, if you want to end on a high note, you’ve got to finish your goals. And we finished our goal tonight.”
City High improved to 24-18 on the season and will play itop-ranked Pleasant Valley in the Class 5A state quarterfinals on Tuesday at 5 p.m. at Rogers Sports Complex in Fort Dodge.
Linn-Mar finished the season with a 23-20 record under veteran coach John Begley, who entered Tuesday’s game with 700 career wins.
“It’s going to be a fun-filled week and we’re looking forward to it,” Jeff Koenig said. “And you know what; we’re going to see what happens. I don’t know what else to say. I’m at a loss.”
Junior centerfielder Breanna Bentler is one of the few City High players who was alive the last time the Little Hawks advanced to the state softball tournament. Bentler also has played on the varsity team since she was in eighth grade, so she knows what it means to struggle.
“If someone had told me in eighth grade that you’re going to state right now, I wouldn’t have believed them,” Bentler said. “But being in this moment right now is just amazing and I couldn’t be any more happier about it.”
The Little Hawks struck first on offense as sophomore Sydney Fellows smacked a two-run home run over the left-field fence in the bottom of the first inning.
Linn-Mar had seven hits in the first three innings, but only one run to show for it off City High starter Ayana Lindsey.
The Little Hawks were clinging to a 2-1 lead when Linn-Mar scored one run in the sixth inning to even the score at 2-2.
The momentum appeared to be shifting to Linn-Mar’s side until the Little Hawks rallied in the bottom of the frame.
Shortstop Brooke Bormann started the rally with a lead-off single. Bentler then drew a walk and Alexa Fredericks followed with a single to load the bases.
Linn-Mar pitcher Katie Smith then retired the next two batters, but she couldn’t get out of the inning as Cook smacked the game-winning double over the head of left fielder Mariam Berry.
“I was expecting her to throw me a change-up, so I was really trying to hold my hands back and I just wanted to get my bat on the ball and then try to punch it somewhere hard,” Cook said. “And when I saw it bounce behind her head, it was just like unreal.”
Despite having no seniors on the team and just three juniors, the Little Hawks stayed composed after Linn-Mar had evened the score.
Linn-Mar also loaded the bases in the top of the seventh, but Lindsey got Katie Smith to line out to second baseman Keli Potter for the final out.
“I know we’ve been down in games and we’re the underdogs,” said Lindsey, who like Cook is just a freshman. “Nobody expects us to win anything.”
Lindsey admitted after Tuesday’s victory that she didn’t think a trip to the state tournament would happen during her freshman year.
“I honestly didn’t think I could do it,” she said. “But it was always a goal and once we got to this point, we knew that we might as well go this far.”
The capacity crowd was another example of how far the City High softball program has come since Jeff Koenig was hired The bleachers behind home plate were full and the hill down the left-field line was packed with fans from both schools.
“It was amazing,” Lindsey said of the crowd. “We’ve never had this many people in the stands before.”
Linn-Mar 001 001 0 – 2 10 0
City High 200 002 x – 4 10 2
Katie Smith and Charli Patten; Ayana Lindsey and Carey Koenig.
2B – ICH: Ella Cook; LM: Kennedy Rentschler, Elly Schuemann
HR – ICH: Sydney Fellows