WATERLOO — The popular phase is “two for flinching.”
For more than 10 innings Monday at Deviney-Waterbury Field, it appeared that neither BCLUW or Waterloo Columbus was going to flinch in a 2A regional softball final.
Zero after zero went up on the scoreboard as Comets pitcher Sam Ubben matched Sailors pitcher Kayla Sproul pitch-for-pitch as the two teams played 10 scoreless innings. Then in the 11th, BCLUW flinched. But instead of two, Columbus needed just one — one run, that is.
Emily Mollenhoff’s infield single with two outs in the top of the 11th plated Kate Shannon and lifted the Sailors to their first state softball tournament in school history with a thrilling 1-0 victory over the Comets (29-9).
“I just wanted to stay on top of the ball and hit it hard somewhere,” said Mollenhoff, whose game-winning hit came on an 0-2 pitch. “It feels so amazing. I’m so happy.”
Columbus suffered back-to-back heartbreaking losses in the regional finals the last two seasons. In 2015, Center Point-Urbana scored twice in the top of the seventh to prevail 4-2. Last year, Central Springs scored five times in the top of the seventh in a 5-1 win.
This time, the Sailors (34-5) were not to be denied as they earned a date with Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont (30-8) at 5:30 p.m. Monday at Harlan and Hazel Rogers Park in Fort Dodge.
“It was a fantastic game. It was unbelievable,” Columbus coach Chris Olmstead said. “We lost two heartbreakers in the seventh inning, one out away last year. I guess maybe it was fate.
“We have a motto this year. We called it our 11. We are, players, coaches, picking someone and dedicating their week of softball to them. We won it in the 11th and we are playing in the 11th week of the season at the state tournament.”
From the start, Ubben and Sproul were masterful in the circle.
After a two-out single in the first, Sproul retired the next 18 Comet batters. Ubben retired 13 consecutive batters from the second inning into the sixth.
Finally in the seventh, Columbus started to break through against Ubben, who had struck out 194 batters in 139 2/3 innings coming into the game. Sydney Schultz hit a one-out double that missed going out by inches, and eventually a walk and a bloop single loaded the bases with two outs before Ubben got a ground out to escape that jam.
In the eighth, Jalila Hart and Taylor Hogan reached safely with back-to-back bunt singles, but Hart was doubled off second on a sacrifice bunt attempt that was popped into the air and a pop-up with runners on first and third ended another threat.
In the ninth, Sproul led off with a single and pinch runner Hannah Hewitt reached third with two outs, but a pop out to short snuffed out that rally.
“If I said no, I’d be lying to you,” Olmstead said when asked if he was beginning to get nervous because of the missed opportunities. “But at the same time I would say I wasn’t worried. I wasn’t worried because I knew the type of pitching and type of defense we were getting.”
The nervous level hit a high in the top of the 10th when BCLUW’s Jordan Beeghley hit a one-out double, the first time all game the Comets had a runner reach second. But Sproul induced a weak pop out and a comeback grounder to end BCLUW’s best scoring chance.
“She was absolutely unbelieveable,” Olmstead said of Sproul, who allowed just four hits and that one batter to advance as far as second base.
“From the start of the game, I knew I had to keep calm because as a team we knew it was our time to do it,” Sproul said. “It really felt like I was in control from the beginning. My defense was there for me all night. I don’t think we had an error the whole game.
“My catcher (Sydney Schultz) ... I couldn’t do it without her. We just get each other.”
Then in the 11th, Columbus finally broke through.
Shannon led off with a double off the left-centerfield fence. After Schultz was called out for touching the ball out of the batter’s box on a bunt and Sproul’s grounder to the pitcher moved Shannon to third, Mollenhoff ended it with a grounder up the middle that glanced off Lauren Anderson’s backhanded attempt to spear it.
Columbus becomes just the second metro team to reach the state softball tournament joining the 2009 Waterloo West Class 5A state qualifier.
“Finally to break through, to break the curse ... it is just so amazing. We wanted it so bad from the start of the year. That was our goal was to make the state tournament and we never gave up on it,” Sproul said.
Columbus 1, BCLUW 0
BCLUW 000 000 000 00 — 0 4 1
Columbus 000 000 000 01 — 1 9 0
Ubben and Goecke. Sproul and S. Schultz. 2B — S. Schultz (Col), Beeghley (BCLUW), Shannon (Col).