Prep softball: Cardiac Comets come through at Albia, Osky

ALBIA — Whether it was dashing down to first base to start a rally, dashing into scoring position with a steal or swiping a softball in foul territory to preserve a slim lead.

In her final season as a Cardinal Comet, Emma Becker is holding nothing back. This is, after all, the last chance to play on a stage that has seemed so close and yet so far away for the Cardinal softball team in recent years.

Becker ignited one decisive rally on Friday at 13th-ranked (3A) Albia in the latest South Central Conference softball thriller of the season, beating out an infield single to open the sixth inning of a scoreless game between the Comets and Lady Dees. It wouldn't remain scoreless for long, however, as Becker stole second base before dashing home on Brinlee Ostrander's ensuing RBI double to left bringing in the first of Cardinal's three runs in the inning ultimately allowing the Comets to escape Monroe County with a 3-2 win to remain unbeaten in conference play this year.

Just 15 hours later, Becker would complete a winning rally for the Comet offense at the Oskaloosa Classic. Once again, Becker found an open spot on the infield driving in Autumn Serrterh with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth lifting Cardinal to another thrilling win as the Comets improved to 7-1 on the season with a 4-3 victory over Oskaloosa at the Lacey Sports Complex on Saturday.

"I definitely wanted to make more solid contact than I did, but just getting on or putting the ball in play is what we needed," Becker said after reaching and scoring the go-ahead run for Comets on Friday just hours before delivering the walk-off hit against Oskaloosa. "It kind of shocked me a little bit, but it got the job done. Getting into those pressure situations is something you have to commit to making the play.

"We want to put ourselves in the best position possible to make it to state this season. For those of us that are seniors, this is our last chance."

Cardinal has seen the previous chances at state slip through their fingers by painfully small margins. Twice, the Comets have let seventh-inning leads slip away in regional tournament losses at Iowa City Regina, falling in a nine-inning regional final in 2021 before losing a 2-1 lead in the seventh inning of a 3-2 loss to the eventual state champion Regals in the regional semifinals.

So far this season, Cardinal is doing it's best not to let another state tournament opportunity slip away by not making a winning play. The Comets are 3-0 so far in games decided by a single run and have rallied from behind three times for wins including Saturday's contest against Oskaloosa in which Cardinal scored twice in the sixth to tie the game at 3-3 on consecutive hits by Becker, Ostrander and Summer LaRue to open the inning.

"I felt like we needed to bust it open. We needed to get going," Ostrander said. "There comes a point where it finally happens for us and everyone starts hitting the ball. It all just kind of falls together."

Ostrander's RBI double on Friday finally pushed a run across in a pitchers' duel between Cardinal senior Nicoa McClure and Albia freshman Grace Pence. Both hurlers entered the sixth inning pitching two-hit shutouts, adding to the tension of a game that started to feel more like a mid-July postseason classic than just a regular-season conference game on the final day in May.

"We're taking every game like it's a postseason game this year," Ostrander said. "These games matter. They set you up for the postseason. To attack them like it's the postseason is so crucial.

"We're determined to get a better seed than we've had in previous years," Becker added. "To host in the postseason would be an amazing opportunity that we could earn for ourselves."

Walks drawn by LaRue and McClure followed Ostrander's go-ahead double on Friday in Albia, setting up the three-run rally as the Comets put the pressure on the Albia defense, allowing Ostrander and LaRue to score as the Lady Dees scrambled to record outs on balls hit by Cynthia Albert and Serrterh. Lillian DeMoss got those two runs back in the bottom of the sixth for Albia with a double to left, cutting Cardinal's lead to 3-2 with one out.

The Comets, however, were able to get the final five outs without allowing Albia to bring the tying run home over the final two innings. The toughest out came at the end of the sixth as Becker ran down a foul ball near the Albia dugout with DeMoss standing at third getting McClure and the Cardinal defense out of the final jam they would face against the Lady Dees.

"Nicoa was pitching such a great game and we really all wanted to be there for her," Becker said. "I was not going to let that little blooper drop. I committed and got that out. Our defense was great again. It's also really fueled us."

Both Cardinal and Albia had mixed results at Oskaloosa on Saturday as the Comets ran out of steam in their fifth game in five days, falling 7-1 to Pella as the Little Dutch broke a scoreless tie in the fourth by scoring five runs off McClure. Albia, meanwhile, bounced back after connecting on just one hit in a 3-0 loss to top-ranked (3A) Mount Vernon connecting on 12 hits in an 11-3 win over North Mahaska with three hits, two RBI and three runs scored by lead-off hitting outfielder Juliana Brown leading the way.

"Our whole team battled hard," Albia softball coach Larry Achenbach said. "There were a couple games that we just couldn't get a timely hit. We've been able to fight back even in games we've lost. You just have to keep fighting the good fight and, hopefully, you can execute when you need to."

Cardinal (7-2, 3-0 SCC) is back in conference action at Clarke on Wednesday in the first of six games over four days for the Comets. No. 13 (3A) Albia (4-3, 2-2 SCC) heads to Oskaloosa on Tuesday and Knoxville, the SCC's other 3-0 team, on Wednesday after welcoming in third-ranked (1A) Wayne on Monday.