MUSCATINE - It began innocently enough, one hitter reaching on an error, another on a single.
Still, with two outs and a four-run deficit, Marshalltown's start to the seventh inning amounted to more annoyance than threat to Burlington.
As hitter after hitter kept reaching first base, suddenly that annoyance evolved into emergency.
T-R PHOTO BY TRAVIS HINES
Members of the Marshalltown High School softball team celebrate in the pitcher’s circle after recording the final out in their 10-6 victory over Burlington in Tuesday’s Class 5A Region 5 championship game at Kent Stein Park in Muscatine. The win earned the Bobcats the program’s first-ever berth into the Iowa Girls’ State Softball Tournament next week in Fort Dodge.
Then, suddenly, it was Marshalltown counting the outs.
The Bobcats scored eight runs with two outs in the seventh inning to score a shocking 10-6 victory over Burlington in the Class 5A Region 5 finals on Monday to deliver the first-ever berth into the Iowa Girls State Softball Tournament to Marshalltown High School.
"It's a dream for everybody since you first pick up a softball, and not many times Marshalltown girls' sports get to have this opportunity," said MHS junior catcher Taylor Wagner, "and we've been put into this situation and we made the most of it.
Iowa Girls' State Softball Tournament
At Harlan Rogers Sports Complex, Fort Dodge
Monday, July 16
Martensdale-St. Marys (38-2) vs. Le Mars Gehlen Catholic (24-10), 11 a.m.
Newell-Fonda (34-7) vs. Charter Oak-Ute (27-10), 11:30 a.m.
Earlham (33-4) vs. Bellevue Marquette Catholic (20-14), 1 p.m.
Don Bosco (28-6) vs. Mason City Newman Catholic (25-11), 1:30 p.m.
Monday, July 16
Durant (31-5) vs. Denver (26-6), 3 p.m.
Des Moines Christian (27-6) vs. Emmetsburg (32-9), 3:30 p.m.
Wayne of Corydon (31-3) vs. Treynor (25-5), 5 p.m.
Van Meter (31-7) vs. Sumner-Fredericksburg (32-10), 5:30 p.m.
Monday, July 16
Solon (35-6) vs. Waukon (14-17), 7 p.m.
Estherville-Lincoln Central (27-6) vs. East Marshall (30-5), 7:30 p.m.
Tuesday, July 17
Bondurant-Farrar (35-7) vs. Davenport Assumption (23-20), 11 a.m.
Mid-Prairie (30-11) vs. Ballard (32-9), 11:30 a.m.
Tuesday, July 17
Clear Creek-Amana (41-1) vs. West Delaware (30-10), 1 p.m.
Indianola (28-11) vs. Winterset (29-13), 1:30 p.m.
Dallas Center-Grimes (33-5) vs. Sioux City Bishop Heelan (31-6), 3 p.m.
Carlisle (32-8) vs. Washington (31-8), 3:30 p.m.
Tuesday, July 17
Ankeny (33-6) vs. Marshalltown (21-21), 5 p.m.
Ottumwa (34-8) vs. Iowa City West (36-6), 5:30 p.m.
Pleasant Valley (32-6) vs. Dowling Catholic (25-15), 7 p.m.
Des Moines East (31-5) vs. Davenport West (31-10), 7:30 p.m.
"And I think that's the best thing, and I'm very proud of this team."
MHS (21-21) put together the comeback piecemeal, scoring one run at a time without an extra-base hit.
The Bobcats scored the first three runs of the seventh on a single from Lauren Mazour, a passed ball and a run-scoring single from Megan Major to pull within one.
With the bases loaded, Taylor Vaske stepped into the batter's box and quickly took the first two pitches for strikes, leaving the Bobcats one strike from summer vacation.
But the team's leader in walks then took the next four pitches to force in the tying run.
"I've been telling my girls all year you just have to believe, and that's what I was telling myself, that you've got to believe and you've got to have confidence in yourself and in your team," said Vaske.
"I feel like I've been pretty good at deciphering strikes from balls. It's hard to lay off knowing that you have a job to do, but at the same time you have to have discretion."
Emily DeVenney, hitting out of the nine-hole, followed by taking a pitch off her forearm to force home the go-ahead run, and Wagner followed with a flyball to center that was dropped to clear the bases and flip the scoreboard, giving MHS a four-run lead going into the bottom half, where Vaske worked a perfect frame to complete the victory.
"The lead definitely gives you some extra energy," said Vaske, who struck out six, walked three and surrendered 10 hits.
After seeing a brief 1-0 lead disappear as Burlington (27-13) scored two in the third and four in the fifth, the Bobcats found themselves down five with just three hits on the board and six outs remaining.
"It's hard to keep the faith, it really is," Vaske said. "It's hard to keep your spirit up, but we are really good at cheering and keeping our spirits alive."
For a team that knocked off No. 3 Muscatine just three days earlier with a sub-.500 record, improbability seems an easy obstacle.
"We didn't give up. That was the key," said MHS head coach Jeff Lamb. "I think at one point in that game we were a little down on ourselves a little bit, but as we came up to the plate we did some things we needed to do and we all of a sudden started getting some confidence back and that was a big thing for us."
Burlington hurler Chandra McCampbell boggled MHS for much of the night until the Bobcats delivered three-straight singles to start the sixth.
Hailee Beals drove in her second run of the night with a single with one down, but McCampbell fanned the next two Bobcats to extinguish the danger.
Then, by pecking, clawing and scraping, MHS slowly but surely became the state tournament's most unlikely entrant in the most unlikely way.
"We know you can't risk getting an out when you're down 6-2, so we've got to hold some up. They know that, they understand that," said Lamb. "They did a good job keeping that up and I think that was big for us.
"They just kept their composure."
And Vaske, a .156 hitter, turned an 0-2 count into the tying run.
"She's a selective hitter, and in that situation it's very easy for me to turn around and say, 'Hey, let's put a pinch-hitter in here, she's been struggling a little bit,'" said Lamb, "but I know what kind of hitter she is, what the pitcher was doing at that point.
"We had (McCampbell) on the ropes for a little bit, so I figured that's a good time to go with her. She did exactly what she needed to do."
The Bobcats will face top-seeded Ankeny on Tuesday at Harlan Rogers Sports Complex in Fort Dodge for the first-ever game at the state tournament in program history in the first year under Lamb.
"I think with the way we play, in one game, we're as good as anybody. I felt really confident going into (the postseason)," Lamb said. "Now, would I have said that at the beginning of the year, probably not.
"But we've been gaining a lot of confidence."
Never has that been more evident.