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It was 1994, 25 years ago. I was five years old, Bill Clinton was President, Major League Baseball cancelled the World Series due to the players strike and the Raiderettes advanced to the State Softball Tournament with a win over Underwood. Brandie Shields was an eighth grader, suiting up in a varsity uniform, under the direction of longtime Raiderette coach Mark Larsen.
Fast forward to 2019 and you have the Raiderettes defeating Underwood 25 years to-the-day to advance to the Regional Final against the fourth ranked team in class 2A, the West Monona Spartans, under the direction of that eighth grade girl who suited up in a varsity uniform.
One year ago, the Raiderettes were in a similar situation. One game away from a state tournament berth. They sat at 24-6 heading into that Regional Final game against Logan-Magnolia, a team that had a proven record of winning. Mount Ayr traveled to Logan-Magnolia’s home field, however, a sea of red followed them. They fell in a highly entertaining, very tough game by a score of 2-1.
This year, the Raiderettes sat at 24-2 heading into the Regional Final with a final ranking of ninth in class 2A. They now faced another team that had a proven record of winning. The West Monona Spartans, who sat at 30-5 heading into Monday night’s game, were ranked fourth overall in class 2A.
Before game, players spoke of nerves and then they began to warm-up. They were singing along with the music, having a good time. Just looking at them, you would have never guessed so much was on the line tonight, as parents were finding their perfect viewing sections along the fences and in the stands. You would have thought the parents were about to play the game with the nervous chatter around the field.
Then it began. Mount Ayr, ranked ninth, was the visiting team. Lexi Lander took the circle for West Monona who boasted a .95 ERA, 280 strikeouts and a .155 opponent batting average. Sam Stewart stepped into the batters box for the Raiderettes. First pitch goes down as a strike. Second pitch, Stewart swings and the ball hits the center field fence, just out of reach of the centerfielder for a double. Cheers erupt. Addy Reynolds struck out swinging followed by Caroline McAlexander getting hit by a pitch. Maddie Stewart entered the game to run. Alexa Anderson comes to the plate and hits a grounder right back to Lander on the mound and it was an easy second out, though, coach Bret Ruggles always stresses that the girls finish running through first. It paid off. Lander rockets the ball passed first base, Anderson reaches second, scoring Stewart. Abigail Barnes goes down swinging. Two outs on the board and Rachel Sobotka had a nice base hit that brings in Maddie Stewart, who was running for Caroline McAlexander. Anderson would then slide into home on a wild pitch. The top of the half would end with Mount Ayr sitting at three runs scored.
Two base hits, a ground out and two strikeouts ended the first inning with West Monona wondering what on Earth was happening. Their dugout was quiet, their fans held the same silence as they were stunned by a hard hitting Raiderette team.
Innings would pass before Mount Ayr would see home again, but it would snowball from there. A run here and a run there continued to add up, as the Spartans became more and more visibly frustrated. By the top of the fifth Mount Ayr led 6-0. Heading into the sixth, the Raiderettes, with full wind in their sails, scored three more runs to go up 9-0, which would prove the difference. West Monona had only lost five times before, with their largest loss coming against Westwood by a score of 8-2.
“This feels so much better as a coach than it does as a player,” said coach Brandie Ruggles. “We are so stinking proud of Caroline and how she just came through. We told her before we left, out of the people I work with, I would follow her anyway. We have your back so just lead us, and she did.”
After a quick talk from coach Bret Ruggles, he urged the girls to go find their parents, their grandparents, whoever it was that dedicated their time to bring them to practice and support them through the season. Tears of joy streamed down faces, friends and family hugging and high-fiving.
After she had calmed down, as much as she could for a girl who has five years with Mount Ayr under her belt and finally a State Tournament berth, all she could do was credit her team with the victory.
“It feels amazing. I am so proud of our team, there are no words to describe the feeling,” said McAlexander. “We knew we had to get after it. We definitely got ahead early and rattled her and that is exactly what our gameplan was.”
Sam Stewart, has been the lead-off batter for Mount Ayr all season. She is a multi-sport athlete for Mount Ayr who is a stand-out in all of them. As the lead-off batter, a lot of weight falls on her shoulders to get the game going, and set the tone.
“I like the outside pitches and I knew that was where it was going to go, so I just gave it everything, especially knowing it could be our last game,” said Stewart. “I was very nervous. I had to talk to a lot of people to calm me down. It means a lot to go to Fort Dodge. Last year we were so close and our senior is a stud, she deserves to go.”
Coach Bret Ruggles looked stunned after the win. His head was down in the dugout on the last batter and as McAlexander threw the last strike, the dugout cleared with cheers from the Mount Ayr girls. He sat alone on the bench, head down, as his wife and co-coach ran in and embraced him.
“We told the girls our mentality was to be aggressive,” said Ruggles. “The more pressure you can put early, the harder it is. Did not expect Sam Stewart to rope the second pitch off the fence. Everything we could have asked for, happened in the first inning. I’m very proud of our girls. We sat at 3-0 forever, we finally got two, we got one, then we got one. The trust that Caroline has in our defense, the fact that we can play, for example, Addy Reynolds makes a great play at third base, it comes off her glove straight to Sam Stewart who guns the girl out at first. We made some great defensive plays, a little lucky in a way, but we made some plays.”
The Raiderettes will make the trip to Fort Dodge on Monday, July 22 to face Beckman Catholic (29-13) at 3:30 p.m. At the Iowa Central CC Diamond. The winner of that game will play Wednesday at 3 p.m. Against the winner of North Linn (39-4) and Wapello (25-2). The losers of those games will play on Tuesday, July 23 at 1 p.m. at Dodger Diamond.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 F
MA 3 0 0 2 1 3 0 9
WM 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
AB H R BI
S.Stewart 4 1 1 1
Reynolds 4 0 0 0
McAlexander 1 1 0 1
Anderson 4 1 1 1
A.Barnes 2 0 0 0
R.Sobotka 4 2 0 2
H.Barnes 4 0 0 0
Henle 4 2 2 0
Lambert 4 1 2 1
MakJones 0 0 0 0
Knight 0 0 0 0
M.Stewart 0 0 3 0
E.Sobotka 0 0 0 0
TOTALS 31 8 9 6
IP H ER RK
McAlexander 7 4 0 0 7
TOTALS 7 4 0 0 7