FORT DODGE — Clarksville fans showed up at the championship game of the Class 1A state softball tournament with a slogan, “We’re just getting started”, attached to the back of their shirts.
On this day, the end result of a successful program-building process could be found in the opposite dugout.
Kee High defended its state championship in convincing fashion, combining near flawless defense with patient hitting and dominant pitching during an 8-1 win over Clarksville at the Harlan and Hazel Rogers Sports Complex.
“Just stay focused,” Kee coach Elizabeth Hill said, addressing the keys to this championship repeat with a team that returned nine of 10 starters from a year ago. “We had a game plan coming in to stay focused, hit the ball hard and do the things you need to, and they did a nice job with that. They stayed hungry.”
Kee’s balance was exemplified with its battery options of sisters Kendra and Courtney Cooper at pitcher and Chloe Severson and Katie Brennan at catcher. Courtney pitched last year’s championship game, and Kendra excelled in her moment to shine late into this Friday afternoon.
The younger Cooper allowed just four baserunners — finishing with 13 strikeouts, one walk and one hit allowed to neutralize a Clarksville team that set a state tournament record with 24 hits in the semifinal round.
“When I knew I had my team behind me it was easy to try to hit my spots because they were good hitters and that’s what we had to do,” Kendra Cooper said. “Coach has drove this team and she has made us who we are and is teaching us more about life than sports. We put a lot of work in the offseason.
“To do it with your best friends, they’re all like sisters to us. We’re a family so it’s just a great feeling.”
This championship game completed an exhilarating week in Fort Dodge for a youthful Clarksville team that features five freshman starters. The Indians celebrated their previous night’s lightning-delayed extra-inning semifinal win with a late meal at a 24-hour McDonald’s and didn’t get to sleep until around 3:30 a.m.
More delays impacted Friday’s championship game. Rain moved the start back 1 hour, 46 minutes to 4:25 p.m. With the score tied 0-0 in the bottom of the second inning, lightning in the area forced another 57-minute delay.
Once play resumed, Kee’s Annabelle Dibert drove in Brennan from second on a single and Kendra Cooper added a two-out RBI double to give the Hawks a 2-0 lead.
As Clarksville (29-3) has done throughout the state tournament, the Indians fought back. Janet Borchardt blasted a one-out double to the fence and came home when Cheyenne Behrends’ well-hit liner was misplayed at second base.
This time it wasn’t meant to be. Kee (38-2) sent 10 batters to the plate and recorded a string of four singles and a walk during a five-run third inning that was more than enough of a cushion for Cooper.
“We weren’t used to seeing such fast pitches,” said Clarksville catcher Bethany Negen, who joined Borchardt on the all-tournament team. “It’s not that I don’t think we were capable of hitting off of her, it was more that we were a little intimidated by her. That’s something we can learn from a lot. To be confident every at-bat.”
Kee finished with nine hits and drew four walks. Still, Clarksville pitcher Kori Wedeking struck out nine and minimized damage aside from the big third inning.
“Coming out in second that’s nothing to hang our heads about, but we do have unfinished business and I can’t wait for next season,” Negen said. “They are an incredible team and a very competitive team. I hope that we can keep competing with them in the years to come.”
Borchardt is part of that large freshman class that has shown an ability to perform at a high level. This whirlwind run to the championship game motivated the Indians for more.
“Last year our goal was to be conference champs and we barely missed that with second,” Borchardt said. “This year our goal was to be conference champs again. We never thought we’d be undefeated (in the Iowa Star Conference), and then making it to state was a huge surprise. Making it to the championship is something we never would have thought.”
Coach Katie Wedeking is confident this group is just getting started following the program’s first run to the state finals in two tournament appearances.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Wedeking said. “This is the best group of girls I’ve ever worked with. They all pick each other up and they all want each other to succeed.”
Kee 8, Clarksville 1
Clarksville 001 000 0 — 1 1 5
Kee 025 001 x — 8 9 1
Kori Wedeking and Bethany Negen. Kendra Cooper and Chloe Severson. 2B—Janet Borchardt (Clarksville), K. Cooper, Katie Brennan (Kee).
Sydney Strong, Kee, Katie Brennan, Kee, Bethany Negen, Clarksville, Katelyn Martian, Westwood, Amy Russell, Colfax-Mingo, Brynn VanEldik, Akron-Westfield, Autum Barthelman, Sigourney, Alyssa Mendenhall, Westwood, Courtney Cooper, Kee, Janet Borchardt, Clarksville, Kendra Cooper, Kee (captain).