West Branch Builds Confidence in Postseason Opener

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Photo by Jeff Yoder

Ryan Murken

Your Prep Sports

WEST BRANCH – When postseason play begins and the win-loss records flip to zeros momentum and confidence can be just as critical as seeding or pairings.

West Branch seems to be building both at the most opportune time.

The Bears had three different players hit home runs and stretched their winning streak to four with a 10-0 five-inning win over Mediapolis on Monday in a Class 2A, Region 8 opener in West Branch.

“Ultimately it comes down to mindset at this point in the season,” West Branch Chandran Lapel. “Right now I feel like we have the right mindset to keep going.”

West Branch (17-17) scored 23 runs in three consecutive wins to close the regular season and didn’t take its foot off the pedal on Monday.

Mackenzie Heise, Bailey Donohoe and Taylor Thein all homered Monday as West Branch hammered 16 hits, seven of which went for extra bases.

“We’ve really focused on hitting the last couple of days big time, actually the last couple of weeks that has been our main focus,” Lapel said. “Tonight, you could tell the girls were ready to hit and put the ball in play.”

The win pulled West Branch to 17-17 on the season, the first time the Bears have been at .500 since June 10.

West Branch will travel to Iowa City to take on top-seeded Regina (18-17) in a Region 8 quarterfinal on Wednesday at 7 p.m.

“We’ve improved throughout the season and we are ready to go,” Heise said. “We have to keep pushing through.”

Lexie Peak and Nicki Henson started the West Branch hit brigade with back-to-back singles in the bottom of the first inning and both came around to score on wild pitches.

That was just the start for the Bears.

West Branch added a run in the second and three in the third courtesy of back-to-back home runs by Heise and Donohoe.

Heise led off the inning with an opposite line drive home run to right center field, her team-leading sixth of the season.

Donohoe followed with a towering drive to left that put West Branch up 5-0.

“We have a really stacked lineup, everybody can hit,” Heise said. “Anytime someone goes up we know they are going to hit the ball.”

Back-to-back doubles by Kaiya Luneckas and Chloe Pence gave the Bears a 6-0 cushion after three innings.

West Branch put the game away with four runs in the fifth.

Thein led off the inning with a home run that hit the top of the center field wall and bounced over.

“The one thing I really love about our lineup anybody in this lineup can hit a double or a home run,” Lapel said. “That is a big thing to have one through nine be able to come up and execute and produce.”

Luneckas provided the game-ending hit with a single to center that scored Henson.

All nine West Branch starters had a hit and six different Bears had an extra-base hit in the win.

“One through nine we are super solid,” Luneckas said. “I have confidence in every single person, everyone does a great job on getting hits and getting on base.”

It was more than enough run support for Luneckas who was sharp in the circle while evening her season record at 11-11.

The junior right-hander struck out 11 and allowed just two hits in a five-inning complete game.

“Getting that first pitch strike is really important for me,” Luneckas said. “That puts me in a good spot and lines me up for all my movement pitches. It’s crucial.”

After Jayde Eberhardt single to right field with one out in the first inning Luneckas was almost unhittable.

She struck out 10 of the final 15 batters she faced allowing just a two-out double to Olivia Moehle in the fourth.

“I think we were all a little nervous,” Luneckas said. “It’s our first postseason game but we all settled in and that really helped me feel more confident.”

Luneckas had three hits while Peak, Henson, Donohoe, Thein and Lexi Klinkkammer all had two.

Thein, Klinkkamer and eighth-grader Ava Finley, the seven, eight and nine hitters in the Bear lineup, combined for five hits including three extra base hits.

“I keep telling the girls that it’s hard sometimes to make a lineup because we’ve got girls hitting doubles and triples and they are at the bottom of the lineup,” Lapel said. “But for us I like having that at the bottom of the lineup because you don’t know where you are going to get it from one through nine.”

Mediapolis      000  00  –   0    2   0

West Branch 213  04  –  10  16  0

W – Kaiya Luneckas               L – Olivia Moehle

2B – WB: Lexi Klinkkammer, Kaiya Luneckas, Chloe Pence

3B – WB: Taylor Thein

HR – WB: Mackenzie Heise, Bailey Donohoe, Taylor Thein

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