Van Meter appeared well on its way to a trip to the regional semifinals: an eight-run lead and just three outs to go against Kuemper Catholic in the teams’ quarterfinal meeting on July 10.
That’s when the wheels fell off. Kuemper (15-22) scored seven runs in the seventh inning, with 11 straight hitters reaching base, aided by two Van Meter errors. Kuemper went on to win, 9-8, in nine innings.
"It’s not the things we always do, it’s the little things that we don’t do that can come back to bite us," said Van Meter coach Garland Shirley, whose team finished the season 23-12. "We didn’t lose this game because they outhit us or anything like that, we had a bunch of errors at crucial times."
The Bulldogs scored three runs in the sixth inning to widen what was a 5-1 lead. Ali Flaherty drew her third walk of the game and came around to score on a double by Bailey Richards, and Kila Carbine followed with a two-run single that plated Richards and Ana Angel, who had singled.
But a pair of errors sandwiched around an RBI double by Kendra Peter started the top of the seventh inning, and Van Meter struggled to close the floodgates. The Knights followed with two walks and five singles, chipping away at the lead until Peter’s infield single knotted the game at eight.
Shirley felt confident that his hard-hitting team could come up with a run to win. The Bulldogs entered the game with a .426 average, the fourth best in the state.
"The pressure wasn’t on us to score, the pressure was on them to hold us," he said. "At that point it was more of a get-it-done type of mentality."
The Bulldogs nearly did, loading the bases wtih Flaherty’s fourth walk of the game and Angel’s third infield hit. But Moriah Bohlmann got Richards to ground out to end the threat.
Kuemper eked out a run in the ninth inning. Megan Wallace, who walked to start the inning, scored on a two-out fielder’s choise by Peter, who had a game-high four RBIs. Van Meter went down in order in the bottom half of the ninth to end the game and its season.
Flaherty walked four times and scored three runs to pace the Bulldogs in the leadoff position. Angel and Carbine each had three hits.
The contest was the final game for Van Meter at Melissa Lyon Field. Plans are underway to build a new baseball and softball complex in the field across the road from the Bulldogs’ football stadium.
Van Meter broke the 20-win mark for the fourth consecutive season, and tied for third place in West Central Activities Conference play with a 13-5 mark. The youthful Bulldogs fell short in their bid for a return to the state tournament in Fort Dodge, but Shirley is hopeful that this season’s bitter end will drive the team in 2014.
"Coming off a year that we go to state, it’s easy for a team like this to get kind of content with where they’re at," Shirley said. "I hate losing more than anybody, but they kind of needed to feel that sting. They needed to watch somebody else walk off of their field with a win that they should’ve had.
"That’s what they needed, and hopefully next year they’ll put the work in in the offseason and come back ready to go."