It started out just like any other state softball quarter-final contest between two evenly matched teams in Fort Dodge Monday, July 19.
Then gradually during the course of the three-and-a-half-hour-long marathon class 3A contest that both fifth-seeded Anamosa and fourth-seeded Atlantic simply flat out refused to lose, things were taken to another level.
Possibly to a level that may have never been seen in Iowa state softball history when it comes to length of game and incredible bone-chilling drama.
This game had it all. An instant classic.
“I just wish we could have found a way to win it, but it sure wasn’t due to a lack of effort,” said Raider softball coach Brad Holub, who with the huge collection of Anamosa softball fans who made their way to the Harlan Rogers Park in Fort Dodge, watched as the Raiders’ first state softball appearance since 1996 came up on the short end of a heartbreaking 10-9 final, one of the wildest games not only in school history, but quite possibly state tournament softball history as the Trojans walked it off for the win in the bottom of the 11th.
“This was an absolute dogfight all night long, and neither team backed down the entire way. Every time one team scored the other would come back and tie it or take the lead, but when we scored three runs in the top of the 11th, I honestly thought we had finally done enough to get the win. I was wrong.”
Locked in a 6-6 tie entering the top of the 11th inning as both teams rallied back and forth all game long, it seemed the Raiders (32-10) had finally created enough separation to get the win when they plated the three enormous runs.
Delaney Frater started the frame reaching base thanks to an Atlantic error. Two batters later Emily Watters ripped a two-out double that plated Frater with the go-ahead run for the Anamosa team, the visitors on the scoreboard.
Savanna Venenga followed with a hard-earned walk before Atlantic head coach Terry Hinzmann decided to intentionally walk Grace Lubben to loaded the bases, choosing instead to face Lexi Bright in the pressure situation.
“I’ve been in that same situation many times before having Grace intentionally walked ahead of me,” said Bright, who delivered a clutch line-drive two-out, two-run single that plated Ava Scranton (pinch-running for Watters) and Venenga.
“All it does is pump me up even more to get the hit. Grace deserves that kind of respect getting intentionally walked all of the time. She’s a great player, but I want to make sure they’re going to pay for wanting to pitch to me. I was able to do that again in a big spot for my team.”
Bright’s hit gave Anamosa a 9-6 lead and the Raiders were just three outs away from advancing to the class 3A state semi-final contest against top-ranked and top-seeded Davenport Assumption.
Amazingly, they wouldn’t quite be able to get there.
Atlantic immediately rallied in the bottom of the 11th loading the bases with no out as Caroline Pellett walked, Ava Rush reached on an error and Madison Botos collected an infield hit.
“We had a three-run lead, so we were happy to trade runs for outs at that point,” Holub said. “We just weren’t able to get enough outs before they scored enough runs to win it.”
Pellett crossed the plate on a wild pitch, cutting the Anamosa lead to 9-7 before Malena Woodward walked to once again load the bases bringing Alyssa Derby to the plate, who proceeded to drill a two-run single scoring Rush and Botos to tie the game. Again.
This time however, it wouldn’t stay that way.
After Watters was able to get back-to-back Atlantic outs, Jada Jensen came through with the hit of the night for the Trojans driving home pinch-runner Madison Huddleson with the game-winning and game-ending run.
More than three-and-a-half-hours after the game’s first pitch, it was over.
“We had so many chances to close this game out, but just couldn’t get it done,” said Watters, who threw more than 250 pitches in the marathon contest, striking out 16 while also walking 12 Atlantic batters in her 10.2 innings of work.
“I just went out there and threw the very best that I could. Playing in a game like that was something I’ve never experienced. It was fun being out there. It just sucks losing when we so easily could have won.”
The game started out inauspiciously as the Raiders plated a run in the top of the first when Watters reached on a three-base Trojans outfield error. Bright came through two-outs later with a single scoring Watters and Anamosa was quickly up 1-0, and it stayed that way until the bottom of the fourth when Atlantic rallied scoring three runs without the softball even leaving the infield.
Four walks and a hit by pitch helped the Trojans in the frame while the team also laid down several bunts to advance runners and score runs.
Now trailing 3-1, Anamosa answered immediately in the top of the fifth scoring three of their own when Leah Sleep (pinch running for Mya Ludwig who had opened the inning with a walk) crossed the plate when Mady Meeker reached on a Trojan error. Watters followed with an RBI ground out that plated Frater (who had walked) before Venenga gave the Raiders a 4-3 lead with another RBI ground out, allowing Meeker to cross the plate.
The one-run lead stood until the bottom of the sixth when Atlantic knotted the score at 4-4 scoring a single run. But again, it appeared Anamosa had the answer when Meeker put down a bunt that allowed Ludwig to score, giving the Raiders a 5-4 advantage with just three outs to get.
The drama continued into the bottom of the seventh when the Trojans, with some help from a controversial call as Pellett collided with Ludwig at first base as the Raider sophomore was reaching for a throw, but was the Trojan senior was called safe on the play.
After loading the bases, Atlantic plated a run on a ground out to knot the score at 5-5, and force extra frames.
Neither team scored in the eighth before the Raiders took a 6-5 lead in the top of the ninth when Frater doubled and reached third on an infield single by Meeker. After Watters singled, loading the bases, the sophomore dashed off first base running almost all the way to second, looking for force the Trojans to make a throw, which they did allowing Frater to cross the plate with another go-ahead run.
It didn’t stand.
Atlantic bounced back yet again, scoring a two-out run in the bottom half to push the game into the 10th, tied 6-6.
The Raiders had a golden opportunity to take a 10th-inning lead when Lubben led off with a double, just missing a home run as the ball bounced off the top of the left field fence, but the senior was stranded at third.
“We knew this was going to be a close game, but I don’t think anyone expected something like this,” said Bright, who had two hits and three RBIs in the contest.
“I think having the big crowd there and our dugout going crazy all game long really helped pump us up. We just came up a little short.”
Venenga and Lubben also added two hits games for the Raiders, who battled eighth-seeded Clarke in the 3A consolation game Tuesday, July 20.