WATERLOO — Waterloo Columbus softball coach Chris Olmstead elected to play Bob Seger’s “Like a Rock” to commemorate the most accomplished class in program history Monday night at Deviney-Waterbury Field.
Like a rock, Sailors’ pitcher Kayla Sproul was as strong as could be.
Like a rock, nothing ever gets to the Sailors’ ace who has been part of a group of teammates that has been something to see over the past five years. Sproul didn’t walk a batter through 14 innings, picking up career wins 108 and 109 with a 7-2, 7-1 league sweep of Hudson in Columbus’ regular season home finale.
The victories allowed Sproul to surpass Waterloo West’s Dana Happel for the softball career wins record within the Waterloo-Cedar Falls metro area. A regular starter working doubleheaders dating back to her freshman season, Sproul has only been defeated 20 times in five years.
“She sets the tone and is that level-headed pitcher that doesn’t have this emotional rollercoaster ride all the time,” Olmstead said. “That’s really indicative of the entire core group.
“It’s pretty emotional for me. You don’t often get a group of that many eighth graders who have started since their eighth grade year all the way through. It’s just really, really special. For this to happen for Kayla on senior night you can’t plan it any better. Everything fell into place.”
While Sproul upped her career strikeout total to 497, her first K didn’t come until the fourth inning of game two. She trusted the defense that has played such a heavy hand throughout her career.
Hudson tallied two hits over the first five innings of game one before singles by Jada Gaskill and Kylee Sallee translated into a pair of Pirate runs in the sixth inning with the visitors already down five. Columbus’ fielders doubled off Hudson runners in the second and third innings of game two, and Sproul helped retire 14 of the Pirates’ final 16 hitters to secure the sweep.
“If we let runners on base, whether it’s an error or a hit, they don’t advance very often,” Sproul said, praising a defense that makes it tough for opponents to manufacture runs. “We turn a double play or get the lead runner out. I think that happens a lot with our team. … It’s really crucial for us to do that.”
While Columbus’ defense limited damage, the Sailors’ offense frequently moved runners with productive outs, aggressive baserunning and accurate hitting.
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Columbus seniors Taylor Hogan and Maliyah Little did the most damage. Hogan reached base in seven of eight at bats with five hits and four runs scored over two games. Little reached on five of six at bats with three singles and a two-run double off the top of the fence that drove a pair home in the third inning of game two.
Catcher Sydney Schultz added two doubles in the second game and senior classmates Jalila Hart and Emma Bormann also recorded hits during the course of the doubleheader.
Schultz has been working as Sproul’s battery mate since third grade.
“I’m calling pitches now and we just work really well together,” Schultz said. “If a pitch doesn’t work so well, we let each other know and just build off of that.
“Our defense is really strong so Kayla throws strikes and our defense just executes for her. I love these girls, love playing with them for all five years and am glad everybody stuck it out.”
Added Sproul, “Having Sydney behind the plate for me these past five years in high school has been incredible. She gets it and I don’t know if I could be here without her catching.”
Adding to the night of milestones were Sproul’s grandparents, Russ and Anita Greiner, who made the trip from Reinbeck and watched from beyond the outfield fence. The couple is celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary and Anita’s 80th birthday this weekend.
“It’s been everything,” Sproul said, addressing her family’s support. “Every game, every tournament, they’re always there, always supporting.
“They don’t just support me, they support the whole team which is really big. I think all our parents do that. Family is everything on this team. It’s not just the team, it’s the whole support system around us that makes us a family and makes this team so special.”