GRUNDY CENTER — A tournament cancellation may have been a blessing in disguise for AGWSR’s softball team.

The potent lineup that returned the majority of its bats from last year’s run into the Class 1A state finals was challenged to make adjustments following a pair of 1-0 losses to BCLUW and East Marshall. When weather wiped out last weekend’s tournament in Roland, the Cougars regrouped with a pair of 10-run rule victories to open this week.

Tested Wednesday night at rival Grundy Center, it was a big swing by MaKenna Kuper that allowed No. 7 AGWSR to secure a 2-1 victory in a well-played NICL West battle. A powerful left-handed hitting sophomore, Kuper led off the sixth inning by depositing an opposite field solo home run into the trees beyond the left-field gap.

“I think we just needed to take our at-bats more seriously,” Kuper said, addressing her team’s response to last week’s shutouts. “We were in that slug of a long period of games where we were just going through the motions. With our time off, we got time to think about it, rest, get our bodies ready for this big game.”

Grundy Center (12-9) didn’t take long to demonstrate this game would be much different than the error-riddled 10-0 loss the Spartans suffered on June 10 in Ackley. Pitcher Megan Beck quickly retired the top of AGWSR’s lineup in order and the Spartans’ hitters jumped on the riseball of one of the state’s top pitchers, Taryan Barrick, for three hits and one run in the bottom of the first.

Kyah Luhring was an early catalyst for Grundy Center as she opened with a nine-pitch single and advanced to second on the throw. A Sydney Mathews bunt moved Luhring to third, but she was tagged out at the plate trying to score on a pitch that bounced off the catcher’s glove.

The Spartans still plated the game’s first run after Jenna Bonorden’s double was followed by an Emma Beck single.

Barrick — who has returned to pitch the second half of conference play after recovering from an ACL injury — adjusted by allowing just one infield hit over the final six innings. She worked fastballs low through much of that closing stretch, while mixing in a few riseballs and curveballs to keep the Spartans off balance.

“She did what a veteran pitcher should do, make the adjustments, make the different pitches that we want and move from there,” AGWSR co-head coach Scott O’Brien said.

Supported by an infield that made 12 outs, Grundy Center junior Megan Beck was tough in the circle, as well.

AGWSR (16-5) didn’t plate its first run until the top of the fourth inning. Barrick reached when Grundy Center’s first baseman pulled her foot on a grounder, and courtesy runner Haleigh Homeyer scored on Josie Winterberg’s single over the second baseman.

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AGWSR had runners on the corners later in the fourth inning, but a pair of outs were assessed on a baserunning interference call that ended the threat.

“We’ve had a lot of adversity this year and we’ve learned to work through it,” Kuper said. “You’ve got to have short-term memory. Softball is a game of every play is different. You never know what is going to happen. You’ve just got to go with the punches.”

Despite the loss, this was another step in the right direction for a Grundy Center team that is beginning to execute more often at the plate and in the field.

“I told them it was a great team effort,” Grundy Center coach Jeff Mathews said. “Everybody battled. AGWSR is a great team, Taryan is a great pitcher, but if we take the right approach and we’re mentally into it we can play with anybody. I’m really proud of the girls.”

It was the type of game that supplied valuable lessons for both teams with postseason play around the corner.

“They’re vastly improved,” O’Brien said of Grundy Center. “I was expecting a tough game and we got everything we wanted.

“One thing we stressed after the game is if you want to get back to the state tournament, you’ve got to execute in these types of games and these types of situations. Fortunately we just had one swing of the bat that was a little bit better and we got something from it.”

AGWSR 2, Grundy Ctr. 1

AGWSR 000 101 0 — 2 6 2

Grundy Ctr. 100 000 0 — 1 4 2

Taryan Barrick and Ali Gerbracht. Megan Beck and Jenna Bonordon. 2B —Bonordon (GC). HR — MaKenna Kuper (AGWSR)

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Sports reporter for The Courier

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