FORT DODGE, Iowa -- Sydney Kennedy took a moment to look around the field.
The first time at the state tournament can be a little intimidating. But panic isn’t part of the Western Dubuque softball team’s vocabulary.
Not even after falling into a two-run deficit just moments into the game.
The second-ranked Bobcats shook off early nerves and turned their Iowa Class 4A state quarterfinal around with a five-run second inning, rallying past seventh-seeded North Polk, 5-2, this afternoon at Rogers Sports Complex.
Western Dubuque (33-7), which is making its second state appearance and first since 2008, advanced to play third-seeded ADM (26-10) in the state semifinals at 5:30 p.m. tomorrow.
“Initially I was like, oh my god, like everyone around the state can watch me? What if I fail?” Kennedy said. “But once you get out there you don’t realize the cameras are on you, you just play your game. Just in that first inning we had to get our nerves out and then we were all good.”
But that first inning wouldn't exactly be described as "good" from the Bobcats' perspective.
A leadoff walk, a stolen base and a throwing error gave North Polk the lead just two batters into the game. A double moved runners to second and third, still with nobody out, and Sydney Anderson’s groundout to second put the Bobcats in a quick 2-0 hole before Kennedy could escape.
It nearly got worse in the second before Kennedy escaped a bases-loaded jam.
And then the game turned.
Meg Besler worked a leadoff walk and Audrey Biermann followed with a single to left to put the Bobcats in business. Maddie Heiderscheit poked an RBI single back up the middle and a throwing error on Hallie Wilgenbusch’s sacrifice bunt attempt allowed the tying run to score.
“We’ve definitely had plenty of come-from-behind wins and our coach definitely has instilled confidence in us all year and knowing that we can hit the ball and field the ball,” Besler said. “We just always have to fight and pull through, because we came here to put on a show for our fans. They want to see us hustle and give all the effort we can.”
Brynn Walters, inserted into the lineup to pinch-hit for shortstop Shelby Rice, lofted a sacrifice fly to center and Heiderscheit came home with what turned out to be the winning run -- and Western Dubuque's 11th come-from-behind win this season.
“I was mentally preparing myself to get on the field because I knew I was going to go in at any second. Once he called my name, I was like, ‘OK, I’m ready,’” Walters said. “I got to the batter’s box and I was like, ‘I can do this.’ I just kept pushing myself through my head and then I went up there and did my best.”
Western Dubuque wasn’t done yet, though.
Sara Horsfield singled to left -- bringing her season total to 79 -- and Kennedy beat out an infield single to load the bases. Abigail Kluesner drew a walk to bring home the fourth run, and Maddie Harris’ sac fly to left capped the five-run outburst.
“We’ve come back in a lot of games and we just know if we trust each other, we’re fine,” Harris said. “It’s just that built-up chemistry that really helps us.”
That was all Kennedy needed.
The Bobcats ace settled in after that, retiring 13 of 14 batters before Ava Husak’s one-out double in the seventh. North Polk eventually brought the tying run to the plate in the inning, but Anderson flew out to Biermann in left to end the game.
Kennedy allowed just five hits and four walks. She struck out seven.
Now, after earning the program’s first win in the state tournament championship bracket, the Bobcats turn their attention to third-seeded ADM, a 1-0 winner over Clear Creek-Amana in its quarterfinal.
“They have a very good pitcher. She’s a very talented pitcher, throws hard, lefty. We’ve got to win a good, low-scoring fast-pitch softball game,” Western Dubuque coach Rex Massey said. “I expect it to be 2-1, 3-2, something along that line. As long as we put the ball in play and get our speed on the bases, we’ll have a chance.”