FORT DODGE, Iowa -- Resilient. Tenacious. Determined. Gritty.
Eventually you run out of new words to use to describe the Western Dubuque softball team.
The Bobcats added a new term on Friday:
Maddie Harris accounted for all three Western Dubuque runs and Sydney Kennedy was masterful once again in the circle with a lead as the second-ranked Bobcats held off fifth-seeded Boone, 3-1, in the Class 4A state title game at Rogers Sports Complex.
“It feels amazing. It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Kennedy said. “All the work we’ve put into it, it’s just so amazing. I can not even describe the feeling. I really can’t.”
Western Dubuque capped its magical season with a 35-7 mark.
But the Bobcats didn’t necessarily make things easy for themselves: They trailed in every game of the state tournament. Friday marked the team’s 13th come-from-behind win of the season.
“It just shows how resilient we are and how well we can adapt,” said Maddie Heiderscheit, one of four Bobcats named to the all-tournament team. “We’ve been practicing for this and we’ve been working toward this, so when we’re down it doesn’t affect us at all. We know we can bounce back every time.”
Heiderscheit was joined on the all-tournament team by fellow Bobcats Sara Horsfield and Audrey Biermann. Kennedy was named the honor team’s captain.
Biermann has now won five state championships in 2021 after claiming four medals at the state track meet in May.
“It feels so good,” Biermann said. “State track is different than state softball, and it feels good to celebrate winning with a huge team.”
Boone, which includes three girls who will play at Des Moines Area Community College next season with Kennedy, got a leadoff single from Emily Ades to help take a 1-0 lead in the first inning.
Ades stole second and moved to third on a groundout to third. Emma Dighton, the losing pitcher and one of Kennedy’s future teammates, was intentionally walked and stole second before Laena Solverson’s groundout to third brought home the initial run.
But that wasn’t really a big deal for the Bobcats. They trailed, 2-0, to North Polk in Tuesday’s quarterfinal before winning, 5-2. ADM scored first in Wednesday’s semifinal before WD pulled away for an 8-1 win.
“We just like a challenge, I guess,” Harris said.
Harris, clutch all week, was the offensive sparkplug on Wednesday and almost certainly should have had a spot on the all-tournament team. The junior catcher reached on a fielding error and advanced to second leading of the second inning. Biermann beat out a swinging bunt to put runners at the corners and Heiderscheit lofted a sac fly to left to bring home courtesy runner Isabel Ernzen with the tying run.
Kennedy roped her state-leading 30th double of the season to the gap in left-center with two outs in the third. Abigail Kluesner drew a walk before Harris dropped a single into left field for a 2-1 lead. She added a bloop run-scoring double just inside the left-field line with two outs in the fifth for a key insurance run.
“Just (batting practice),” Harris said. “If they pitch me one right down the middle they’re going to feel sorry for doing it. That’s my mindset.”
At that point, Boone was in serious trouble.
Kennedy has been virtually unhittable with a lead in the postseason.
But Boone still threatened. At least for a moment.
Dighton, batting a robust .602 to start the tournament, worked a walk leading off the sixth before stealing second. She reached third on a dropped-third strike.
That’s when Horsfield made her presence felt.
Victoria Lewis lofted a fly ball to center and Horsfield stumbled as she camped under the ball. She appeared to bobble the ball slightly as she came up throwing for home. The throw was slightly off line, but Harris dove back toward the plate and swiped Dighton with her glove to complete the inning-ending double play and keep the two-run lead intact.
“I knew either way I was catching that ball. Getting her out at four was a plus,” Horsfield said. “I just wanted to make sure I caught that ball, then all my momentum was going forward and I was able to get her out, which was great.
“That definitely was big. If they would have gotten that run it would have been an even more hectic game, but it saved us.”
Three outs away from a title, and with a two-run lead. Seems easy, right?
Not on the nerves.
“I definitely did not keep it in check, that is for sure,” Horsfield said. “I’m glad I’m in the outfield so no one can see how nervous I am. But as soon as Sydney threw that pitch, I knew.”
Kennedy got a swinging strikeout for the first out, then induced a harmless popout to shortstop. No. 8 hitter Erin Ades worked the count full before an off-balance swing set off the Bobcats’ celebration on the infield.
“It’s going to sound bad, but exactly as we planned,” first-year WD coach Rex Massey said. “Sydney pitched a tremendous game, Maddie called almost a perfect game.
“We had a gameplan and the kids executed. They just executed beautifully.”