WATERLOO — Members of the Waterloo Columbus softball team didn’t have to wait long for their first at bats of the 2017 postseason.
After losing the pregame coin toss, the Sailors stepped into the batter’s box first and plated at least one run in the top half of every inning during an 11-2 win over Grundy Center Wednesday night in a Class 2A, Region 3 quarterfinal.
Waterloo Columbus (32-5) put its leadoff hitter on base in six of the seven innings, with that runner coming around to score on all six occasions. All nine batters reached base and seven accounted for 13 hits as Class 2A’s No. 5-ranked Sailors advance to face Ogden, a 10-4 winner over Madrid, 7 p.m. Friday back at Columbus’ Deviney Waterbury Field.
“It’s always great when you can get a leadoff hitter on,” Columbus coach Chris Olmstead said. “Percentages are higher that they’re going to at least come around and score a run for you. They were very selective at the plate tonight. I thought they did a good job with all their at bats.”
As she stepped into the pitcher’s circle each inning with a new number on her team’s half of the scoreboard, Columbus sophomore Kayla Sproul retained her steady approach. Sproul struck out four, walked one and only allowed multiple runners to reach during a fourth inning in which two unearned runs scored on an errant transfer from second base to shortstop.
The Columbus pitcher also led her team’s offense as Sproul finished with four hits, including a double and three RBIs. It was certainly an encouraging start to postseason play.
“We want to stay high energy, just play it like any other game — no nervousness and just start off on top, get hits and play our solid defense like we usually do,” Sproul said. “It helps a lot when you’re hitting good. It gives you good confidence.
“I can keep my nerves down. I always have confidence in myself when I’m pitching and I don’t have to be worried because I know my team will make the play. Even if they make a mistake, we’re always going to bounce back from it and get the next one.”
In addition to Sproul’s big game at the plate, Columbus catcher Sydney Schultz finished with two RBI doubles. Jalila Hart recorded three infield singles at the bottom of the lineup and Grace Surma added a multi-hit game with a pair of singles. The constant stream of hits was backed by aggressive baserunning.
“They have so much speed that once they get on you know they’re going to put pressure on you,” Grundy Center coach Jeff Mathews said. “They just hit the ball. Everywhere we pitched it, they hit it. Very good team.”
Megan Beck finished with two hits, including a double and a run scored, to pace a Grundy Center team that finished the season 7-18.The Spartans had made recent progress by pushing the second-highest seed in Region 3, BCLUW, to a 2-1 score at the end of the regular season before defeating rival Dike-New Hartford 12-0 in the postseason opener.
“The last week, up until tonight, we’ve been playing really, really well and getting better,” Mathews said. “Everybody got better and we only lose one person (to graduation). ... If we put some work in, in the offseason we’ll get better. We’ll be better next year.”
For Columbus, the postseason road has never been smoother. A program that has won at least 29 games in four consecutive seasons has secured home field advantage throughout regional play for the first time.
“When we play at home we’re always high energy,” Sproul said. “Just staying at home, it’s a big advantage. ... We always come out hot and really relaxed.”
Olmstead likes the manner in which his team is approaching this postseason run.
“It’s going to get tougher as we move forward and they know that,” the Columbus coach said. “They’re up to the challenge. They have real good confidence. It’s not arrogance, it’s just real good confidence in each other. It’s a pleasure to coach them because you can see how they interact with one another and constantly are encouraging one another.”
WATERLOO COLUMBUS 11, GRUNDY CENTER 2
Columbus 231 111 2—11 13 1
Grundy Center 000 200 0—2 5 2
Kayla Sproul and Sydney Schultz. Landry Luhring, Megan Beck (3) and Erika Johnson. 2B—S. Schultz 2, Sproul (Col), Beck (GC).