Dallas Center-Grimes softball recap: Pure winners

Sean Cordy, Correspondent
Special to Dallas County News
Dallas Center-Grimes players celebrate beating North Scott during the Class 4A semifinals at Harlan Rogers Sports Complex Wednesday, July 20, 2022 in Fort Dodge.

The Mustangs may have finished one step shy of a state title, but they still ran the furthest the program has seen in almost a decade.  

Pure Power

Since winning three straight state championships from 2013-2015, the Mustangs had fallen short of the title game the last six seasons. They finally returned to the final round this year after compiling a 35-6 record. Naturally, this was also the first year DCG had won more than 30 more games since that last championship in 2015.

After a little slip in the middle of the season, Dallas Center corrected course and went on a 15-game win streak, marking one of their longest  unbeaten stretches of the last decade. Seven of those games were won by double digits.

Among Class 4A teams, few teams could run with the Mustangs’ offense which averaged 7.8 runs per game, ranked fourth among all 48 teams. And even those that ranked above them, the Mustangs still found a way to win, like they showed top-ranked offense the door with a 10-1 win in the regional championship game.

Dallas Center-Grimes' Elle Nelsen (21) attempts to tag out North Scott's Sydney Skarich (18) at third base during the Class 4A semifinals at Harlan Rogers Sports Complex Wednesday, July 20, 2022 in Fort Dodge.

Staying Disciplined

Few teams can hold a candle to the Mustangs’ consistency at the plate. The only one that really compares is the team that walked out of Fort Dodge with the Class 4A trophy. 

DCG finished the season ranked first with a .378 batting average, second with 37 home runs and second with 666 total bases. Only champion Winterset (.376 average, 46 home runs, 682 total bases) gave any true competition as the most consistent team at the plate.

But looking further, the Mustangs may have had superior discipline considering their strikeout rate of just 10 percent. By comparison, Winterset struck out 13 percent of appearances. So did other top offenses like Benton, Bishop Heelan, Indianola. No one could touch the Mustangs’ ability to extend their time in the batters’ box and get on base. 

Dallas Center-Grimes' Lydia Zaruba (1) waits on second base during the Class 4A softball state championship at Harlan Rogers Sports Complex Thursday, July 21, 2022 in Fort Dodge.

That largely came from having batters like sophomore Aubrey Johansen and senior Elle Nelsen who ranked third and seventh in total bases, respectively. And while she wasn’t as likely to hit one out of the park, Lydia Zaruba did her job as well as any. Her 48 single hits ranked fourth in Class 4A. 

That discipline at the extended into the field as well.

Johansen was the team’s ace this year, logging an 18-3 record in 25 games pitched. She ranked fifth among win totals this year, and was one of 16 pitchers to win at least 15 games. But of that group, only four did not eclipse at least a hundred strikeouts including Johansen (80 K’s). In fact, most of those 15+ win pitchers recorded 150+ strikeouts. 

With Johansen pitching into more ground contact situations, it was on the defense behind her to come through. Ranked seventh in total putouts and ninth with a .948 fielding percentage, DCG’s gloves certainly pulled through. 

Dallas Center-Grimes' Aubrey Johansen (9) pitches to a Winterset batter during the Class 4A softball state championship at Harlan Rogers Sports Complex Thursday, July 21, 2022 in Fort Dodge.

Moving Forward

One of the biggest compliments the Mustangs could be paid this year is how good they looked despite being so young. 

Last year’s team that came up short of a state tournament berth lost eight players that started at least one game. That laid the groundwork for this season to be paved by relative rookies. 

Of the 11 players that started at least 25 games, six were sophomores compared to one junior and two seniors (Elle Nelsen and Lauren Wyllie). So while this roster proved that seniority doesn’t mean as much as an ambitious group like the Mustangs had this year, it definitely bodes well that well over half of the primary contributors this year are coming back for at least one more ride.

Dallas Center-Grimes' Jenna Morrison (5) scores on teammate Izabella Mulder's home run against North Scott during the Class 4A semifinals at Harlan Rogers Sports Complex Wednesday, July 20, 2022, in Fort Dodge.