CHARLES CITY—The deeper each team delves into the softball playoffs, the more crucial each hit, run, pitch and error can be.
Independence learned that lesson all too well Saturday night as Charles City scored three runs on one hit in the fourth inning, and advanced to the Class 4A, Region 4 finals with 3-1 win over the Mustangs.
With both starting pitchers throwing strikes and getting big plays from their defense through three innings, it looked to be a type of game where one mistake could be costly.
Make that four miscues for Independence (26-14).
A walk and error put the host Comets (31-6) in business, as Sara Martin punched a single into shallow center to load the bases.
A productive ground out by Bailey Mitchell scratched the first run home, then another walk followed by the Mustangs’ second error tacked on two more, giving the Comets a 3-0 edge after four.
“They have a real good pitcher over there that can really work the edge and move the ball so well,” Charles City coach Brian Bohlen said of Independence starter MacKenzie Hupke. “They put a lot of pressure on us earlier this year and we knew we had to come in here really focused.
“We got our number three hitter (Tayler Schmidt) to put down a really good bunt in the fourth and she beat the throw. That kept the inning going and we were able to turn that into runs.”
Charles City starter Sammy Heyer held the lead as she struck out the final Mustang she faced, for nine total, to capture the win.
“I was not that worried because I have such a great defensive team behind me,” Heyer said. “They are very supportive in their roles so I just concentrate on putting the ball in play.”
Heyer’s role was just as important for the No. 14 Comets, as she was on the glove end of 14 of the 21 outs and allowed just four hits. At one point, Heyer had set down 14 straight batters.
“They have really improved a lot since we first met earlier,” Heyer said. “We knew we would have to bring our A-game with us tonight. When we got the three-run lead we knew that it is never enough and that we could not become complacent. We were able to hang on and get the win, but we still have quite a bit of stuff to work on.”
Independence kept testing the Comets and provided its biggest threat in the final frame.
Kaitlin Niedert led off the top of the seventh with a single and advanced to third on a double by Hupke. A sacrifice fly by Lydia Butters cut the deficit to 3-1, but Heyer struck out the side to earn the win.
“That fourth inning really hurt,” Independence coach Heather Hupke said. “We got the pitching game we expected. I don’t know if it was nerves really as much as they caught us on our heels a couple times there where we wanted to get an out so bad. We did not make the play.
“We did not give in. ... We are the comeback kids and we fight our way back into games. Our motto this year has been ‘earn it’ and they have worked hard all season and they earned the chance to play on. We lose one senior this year so there is quite a bit of promise for the future.”
Charles City faces a tough test Tuesday the Comets travel to Van Horne to face No. 1 Benton Community with a return trip to the state tournament on the line.