Experience helps spur victory for DCG softball in state tournament opener

Andrew Brown - Sports Reporter
Senior Molly Cooney stands on second base after bringing home three runs in the Class 4A state quarter-final against third-seeded Fairfield Monday, July 27. PHOTO BY ANDREW BROWN/DALLAS COUNTY NEWS

History was made withing the confines of Harlan Rogers Park Monday, July 27 as the Dallas Center-Grimes softball team (20-9) captured the 7-5 victory over Fairfield in the Class 4A state quarter-final round.

The historical part came as DCG’s victory over the opposing third-seeded Trojans marked the first time the Fillies advanced past the quarter-final round since the 2015 campaign. That just so happened to be the last time Fillies softball captured a state title. It was a big win not just for the continuation of the season but so much more.

“I was so proud, this is something that my whole team has been working for,” began senior catcher Molly Cooney. “I was just so excited and so proud that we broke that barrier and that all of our hard work was paying off.”

Cooney herself played a big role in the win, striking two of DCG’s seven hits for the contest. Her first hit came in the big third inning explosion that saw four Fillies cross the plate. Following Kamryn O’Brien’s 13th RBI of the season an a single to right field, Cooney delivered a hit that would help change the tides of the game. Fairfield actually touched up the scoreboard first for a 2-0 lead. That was chipped away with O’Brien’s hit but what really set the momentum to DCG’s favor was Cooney’s RBI double that cleared a bases-loaded situation and gave fans plenty to cheer about as DCG galloped to a 4-2 lead.

“Molly was great at the plate today,” began DCG head coach Steve Schlafke. “We’re glad the double ended up where it was and not to the left as much. She really came up big for us all game long both at the plate offensively and behind the plate defensively. She’s a great leader and once again you saw that here today.”

That marked the only lead DCG would need across the entire contest It was an inning that helped to highlight what head coach Steve Schlafke spoke of as an advantage for the Fillies entering the contest.

“Experience was absolutely huge in this game because you can take a look back when we were struggling and a lot of teams would fall apart in that situation,” said Schlafke. “Our two senior pitchers pitched well in this game and picked each other up. The leadership on this team has been there before and they know what to do and it showed here today.”

The Fillies found ways to be productive offensively in nearly every situation and that included crossing the plate with two outs. The next time the Fillies crossed the plate came the top half of the fifth inning and after two quick outs to start the frame, DCG rattled off three hits and two walks to help push across two more runs. Those came courtesy of Kylie Merical’s 22nd single of the season to plate both Nicole Merical and Aubrey Johansen.

That turned out to be a significant inning as well for the experienced Fillies as they found themselves in hot water defensively the very next inning. Senior hurler Lani Gannon only had four walks issued all game but three of them came to begin the bottom of the fifth. Combined with a two-run single by the opposing Trojans and DCG’s once comfortable 6-2 lead shrank to a slim 6-5 mark. Gannon ended up getting things back on track which led to three consecutive outs to help the Fillies keep the lead, now 6-5 entering the sixth inning.

The experience factor came into play once more in what turned out to be a very crucial sixth inning for the Fillies. Faced with two outs once again, the Fillies pushed across a much-needed insurance run courtesy of Kamryn O’Brien’s lone hit of the game on a single to first which plated the teams’ seventh run of the ball game. From that inning, the Fillies took to the final innings of the contest with a 7-5 lead which despite a seventh-inning comeback attempt by Fairfield, they would not give up, thus capturing the win.

Overall five Fillies added to the seven total hits in the contest. Both Cooney and Merical were the only Fillies with multiple hits in the contest which led to five out of the seven runs driven in for the contest. The Fillies were issued four walks in the game and suffered just four strikeouts offensively. Inside the circle, it was the duo of Gannon and Riley Hall that muffled the Fairfield lineup just enough for the victory. Hall began and ended the game going a combined 3.2 innings of work and striking out three while allowing just three hits and a pair of earned runs. Gannon went just over three innings of work and bumped up her strikeout total to 56 on the season with a pair against Fairfield. That also went alongside the four walks and just three hits allowed.

The win marked a big step for the Fillies who now rest with a 20-9 record as they advance to the state semi-final round. It marks the second state tournament win for the Fillies over the Trojans. It also continues to mirror the 2015 campaign very well. In that season, the Fillies ended up facing off against Raccoon River Conference opponent Winterset in the Class 4A title game. The Huskies will be DCG’s opponent once more as both teams clash for the 22nd time since the beginning of the 2007 campaign. The Fillies have taken eight out of the last ten in the series. Their battle for the right to tackle the title game will begin Wednesday, July 29 beginning at 11:30 a.m.