DCG softball returns plenty of talent as new season kicks off

Sean Cordy
Correspondent
Dallas Center-Grimes’ Haylee Hidlebaugh gets a high-five from head coach Steve Schlafke as she rounds third base after hitting a solo home run to the Fillies’ 4A regional final game with Ballard in 2020. Joe Randleman/Ames Tribune

Coming within one run of appearing in the state title game, the Mustangs come into 2021 with a team that made a habit of winning last season. Now with a target on their back that grows with each passing year, Dallas Center-Grimes has plenty on the line in 2021.

Settling In

Starting a season 0-3 has been a foreign concept for Mustang softball. Last year, DCG won seven games before experiencing a loss. Though it's a dip compared to last year's team that never lost more than twice in a row, it's not without precedent. 

The 2018 team experienced a brutal 10-game losing streak before turning the ship around for a state tournament appearance. Even the 2013 state champion team once went 1-3 midway through the season.

DCG lost its season-opener 6-0 against Fort Dodge and followed up with a 7-5 loss to Waukee and 14-14 against Ankeny. Waukee's game was tied 5-5 through three innings thanks to a Haylee Hidlebaugh home run. The Mustangs picked up their first win of the season on June 1, beating the Winterset Huskies 8-1.

Playmakers

DCG's Kylie Merical with a throw to first base on June 22, 2020 during a doubleheader with Grinnell. File Photo/Dallas County News

Based on 2020 stats, DCG is one of the most prolific teams at the plate but has question marks surrounding the bullpen. While two-time all-state selections Molly Cooney and Kamryn O'Brien graduated, infielders Kylie Merical and Elle Nelson both return as upperclassmen. 

Nelson led the team last year with 45 hits, 60 total bases, 11 steals, and 26 runs. Merical was also an on-base machine at a .402 rate which she converted into 21 runs. They were both great beneficiaries of eighth-grade standout Aubrey Johansen who led the team with 22 RBI and a .449 batting average, ranked in the top-five among eighth-graders.

With her home run against Waukee, Hidlebaugh looks to take a step forward on a roster chock-full of talent. She ranked 10th on the team with eight hits last season. 

While the bats come in with considerable experience, the pitching staff is missing their lone starters Lani Gannon and Riley Hall. They pitched a combined 205 of 208 total innings for the Mustangs last season and held sub-4.00 ERAs.

Streak to Watch

DCG has been one of the state's most dominant teams in recent memory. Currently, the only other team in Class 4A to have an active streak of three or more state tournament appearances is Charles City. Should the Mustangs return to Fort Dodge for a fourth straight year, it would make nine appearances in the last 11 seasons.

State of the Conference

Still early in the season, a number of teams have already shown more flair than in 2020 as Grinnell is off to a 4-0 start after finishing in the bottom half of last year's league standings. Newton went winless but already notched a pair of wins to hopefully get back on track to the 2018 tournament team. Likewise, Indianola comes back with two multi-state honorees with hopes of repeating as conference champs.

Dallas Center-Grimes' Aubrey Johansen at bat during the Girls State Softball Tournament semifinal game between Winterset and Dallas Center-Grimes on Wednesday, July 29, 2020, in Fort Dodge.