—by Todd Thorson
The North Polk Comets used their bunting prowess to perfection last Tuesday night (July 9) to move past the Roland-Story girls 11-5 in the opening round of the 3A Regional Tournament held at Alleman. The Norse spotted the Comets a 4-0 lead after two innings of play, but managed to score three of their own in the third and two more in the fourth to take a 5-4 lead. In the process, pitcher Erin Nuetzman appeared to settle down nicely following that four-run outburst by the Comets, facing only seven North Polk batters through the third and fourth frames.
Unfortunately, the flood gates opened once again for the home team, as North Polk put five runs on the board in the fifth to retake the lead for good, 9-5. The Norsemen were unable to get anything going past the fourth. North Polk retired the Norse in order in the sixth and seventh, and allowed the visitors only one base runner (a walk in the fifth) through the final three innings.
"I really thought the girls came into the game with expectations that they were going to win and continue on," said Coach Amber Doyle. "I was excited to see every girl on the team planning to move forward. That was a big step for our program to make, even though the win didn’t go our way."
The Norse scored only one run in each of their previous two meetings with North Polk, and they very easily could have quit after the Comets went up by four runs. "But the girls showcased how far they’ve come since those games and fought back," stated Doyle. "Unfortunately, between some uncharacteristic errors, putting their lead off runner on every inning and some close calls that didn’t go our way, they were able to utilize their bunt game to put up a big inning from which we just couldn’t recover."
Bryce Holmgren and Alexa Whipple led the Norsemen’s eight-hit attack with two hits each. Both Alexa and Bryce drove in two runs as well. Schyler Polaski, Maddie Schmitt, Ena Moats and Cassie Shadlow had the other Norse hits. North Polk banged out nine hits, and utilized their fine bunting techniques, along with nine sacrifices, to keep the R-S girls off balance.
After trailing 4-0, the Norse broke through with three runs in the third. Ena Moats walked and scored on Bryce Holmgren’s double to left. With two outs, Schyler Polaski singled, sending Bryce to third. Alexa Whipple then drove in Holmgren for the second run of the inning. Polaski would score when Sydney Berends reached on an error.
In the fourth, Maddie Schmitt led off with a single. A bunt single by Moats and Brooke Staker’s hit by pitch loaded the bases. Holmgren then stepped up and lined another hit to left, bringing in Schmitt. With the bases still loaded, a fielder’s choice forced Moats out at home. Another fielder’s choice forced Staker at the plate as well. Now, with two outs on the board, Alexa Whipple managed to collect her second hit of the ball game, which allowed Holmgren to score from third. On the play, the center fielder threw out Polaski’s pinch runner Lexi Georgius at second.
The Comets scored their four runs in the second courtesy of two R-S errors, a couple of walks, two bunts and three sacrifices. They only had one hit in the inning, as nine batters came to the plate. In the five-run fifth, a couple more errors by the Norsemen, plus three singles, three bunts, a wild pitch and a passed ball all contributed to the Comets’ scoring barrage.
"I was disappointed on behalf of the seniors after the effort they have put in the last four years, to not have come away with a win," concluded Coach Doyle, "but I was glad to see how hard they fought along with all of their teammates."
North Polk went on to face PCM on Friday at Alleman, where the Comets lost to the Mustangs 9-4. PCM had breezed past Nevada in their opening round game 11-1. In the other half of the 3A Regional 7 bracket, South Tama shut out Union 1-0 and East Marshall defeated Gilbert 11-3. East Marshall then handed South Tama a 15-10 defeat, setting up a regional final matchup Monday night (July 15) at State Center between PCM and East Marshall. The Mustangs ended up falling to East Marshall 7-2.