Second-ranked Dallas Center-Grimes earned a 2-0 victory over No. 13 Harlan on Tuesday, giving the Fillies their third consecutive trip to the state tournament.
The Fillies will open against on July 23 at 1 p.m. against unranked Denison-Schleswig (26-12), which won a 11-10 slugfest against Humboldt in its regional final.
DC-G was third in Class 3A in 2011, and finished second in Class 4A last year, losing in the finals to Indianola.
"Since that game was over, we’ve been setting our sights on the opportunity not only to go back, but to finish the business that we have," said coach Steve Schalfke.
Allie O’Brien snapped a scoreless duel in the sixth inning against Harlan, ripping a two-out liner into right field to plate Taylor Draisey with what proved to be the winning run. Draisey had doubled with one out.
O’Brien, who had struck out on a low, inside pitch two innings before, worked the count from 0-2 to 3-2, fouling off pitch after pitch before getting one to drive.
"I just kept fouling them off and eventually I got the one I wanted," said O’Brien, who has hit safely in nine consecutive games and has a .500 average (10-for-20) in July. "I put it in play and it all worked out."
The Fillies added a run in the seventh. Brooke Kramer singled and came around to score on a ground out by Tabitha Taylor.
DC-G hit the ball hard all game, but it wasn’t until the later innings that they started finding holes on the field.
"It was hard to find the pitch you wanted to hit, but as soon as we found a couple of holes, we strung some hits together and it all worked out in the end," O’Brien said.
Harlan and DC-G traded zeroes for five innings. The Fillies’ Paige Lowary, who won her 100th career game, stranded four runners through the first four innings and worked out of a two-on, no-out situation in the third inning by getting a pop-up, fielder’s choice and ground-out to first base from the top three in Harlan’s lineup. Harlan’s Taylor Schaben stranded six through the first five innings before the Fillies broke through in the sixth.
The Fillies have played plenty of close games this season in a grueling schedule.
"Coach (Schlafke) talks about how we have the toughest schedule and it’s true, it really prepared us," O’Brien said. "Perseverance is what really got us through this game."
Lowary struck out six, allowing just three hits and one walk. She was also 2-for-4 at the plate.
DC-G used an eight-run second inning to power past Carroll 12-0 in its first regional game on July 13.
Draisey homered and drove in four, Wolfe was 2-for-3 with three RBIs, O’Brien collected two hits and drove in two and Rachel Lowary scored twice. Paige Lowary limited the Tigers to just two hits while striking out four in the four-inning victory.
After a third-place finish in Class 3A in 2011, the Fillies reached the 4A state title game in 2012, but lost a narrow 1-0 decision to Indianola. Are they hoping to complete the podium climb this season?
"Heck yeah," O’Brien said. "This team, we have such great chemistry and we work together. All of us have confidence in each other and I think we’ll play really well there."
The Fillies have the luxury of having plenty of state-tournament experience, with a large corps of players who have been on all three state-qualifying teams. Denison-Schleswig is making its first tournament appearance.
"The first year (in 2011) we had no idea what to expect and it was crazy," Wolfe said. "This time I think we’ll be more calm. We’ll know what to expect so it will be better for us."
In order to have success in Fort Dodge, it’s important to be able to block out the distractions.
"When you don’t know what the whole experience is like, you can really get caught up in the stuff on the outside of the fence," Schlafke said. "Having been there before and knowing how to handle being away from home for three or four days…they know what to expect. You don’t have to worry about all the little things."
Regardless of experience, Schlafke knows that anything can happen once the state’s best teams converge on Fort Dodge.
"We could lose the first game, but our kids right now are on a mission to have three more games," he said. "We want to play in the last game where we have the opportunity to win it all. They’re all in on that and I think we have a shot."