LE GRAND - Boasting a No. 4 ranking, a 26-5 record and a roster brimming with talent - it's easy to forget the Mustangs are a relatively youthful squad.
And even though the East Marshall softball team is still going through its share of growing pains, the pieces are coming together at the right time.
The Mustangs made their latest growth spurt by rallying for an 11-3 victory over Gilbert in a Class 3A Region 7 first round game Tuesday.
T-R PHOTO BY TYLER STRAND
East Marshall’s Taylor Fricke scoots past Gilbert catcher Elise Powers in the third inning of Tuesday’s Class 3A Region 7 game in Le Grand. The Mustangs rallied from a 3-1 deficit to claim an 11-3 victory and their 12th win in 14 games.
"We're young and people don't realize that," East Marshall coach Jary Hoskey said of his squad, which won for the 12th time in 14 games. "We're young with only three seniors but we're starting to grow up a little bit and I'm happy with that."
After the Tigers tallied three runs in the top of the third to take a 3-1 lead, the Mustangs retaliated with six in the bottom of the frame. Mariah Fritz capped the flurry with a bases-clearing triple and Katie Roseland later added a solo home run in the sixth as East Marshall pulled away.
The Mustangs advance to face South Tama County (12-20) in a semifinal game Friday at 7 p.m. in Le Grand. The Trojans trumped Union Community (10-16) by a 1-0 tally in La Porte City Tuesday.
East Marshall swept the Trojans earlier this season winning 4-3 in Le Grand and 6-4 in Tama. The winner moves on to the regional final Monday at 7 p.m. in State Center.
The Mustangs' hopes of a return trip to the state tournament took an early hit when Gilbert's Cali Koeneke and Serine Isenhart connected on back-to-back RBI singles in the third. Koeneke's blooper to center field plated Hannah Williams to knot the score at 1, before Isenhart's hard grounder up the middle brought in Johana Holck and Elise Powers to seize a two-run edge for the Tigers (9-20).
Paige Miller opened East Marshall's rally with a double before Taylor Fricke followed with one of her own to drive in Miller. Ashley Allen's run-scoring single evened up the scoreboard before she later crossed the plate on a passed ball to reclaim the lead for the NICL West Division runners-up.
Fritz's hard drive to deep left field brought in Callie Roseland, Haley Long, and Kylee Hoskey and the sophomore hurler seemed to take the momentum with her back out to the circle after a slow start.
"Fritz wasn't as sharp as she could be tonight, but give her credit," Hoskey said of his pitcher, who allowed just two hits over the final four innings and improved to 12-3 on the season.
"She was dynamite in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings and defensively we made some good plays."
East Marshall used small-ball to score its next run for an 8-3 lead in the fourth. Katie Roseland reached on a dropped third strike, before her pinch runner Bobbi Amendt stole second, moved to third on a groundout and beat the tag at home when Ashley Allen made contact and the Tigers opted to make the play at the plate.
Roseland crushed a solo homer over the center field fence in the sixth - her 11th of the year - before twin sister Callie plated Haley Fye with an RBI double. Hoskey added a single to bring in Callie Roseland for the game's final margin.
"We were patient and waiting for our pitch," said Fricke, who drove in the Mustangs' first run on a RBI groundout in the first. "When we do that, we hit all the time."
Lately, the Mustangs were winning all the time and had an 11-game win streak late in the regular season, though a couple losses to close it against Class 5A Ames may have been just as valuable.
"The losses helped us get more focused on these (playoff) games and not let us have big heads going into this," said Fricke.
It's just another sign of maturation from Hoskey's squad and exactly what he hoped would come from playing a large school opponent.
"A lot of people questioned me about scheduling Ames, but I think it made us better," Hoskey said. "We're going to do it again next year and we'll keep doing it - playing the bigger schools. It makes your defense play better because they put the ball in play on us and it makes our hitters better because we saw some pretty good pitching from Ames."
Fritz allowed three runs on seven hits, while fanning five and walking two in seven innings. Clare Isenhart (1-5) surrendered 11 runs on 13 hits and two walks, while retiring three batters on strikes in six frames.
Fritz had a pair of hits and 3 RBIs, while Fricke drove in two runs with a double. Hoskey, Katie Roseland, Callie Roseland and Ashley Allen each drove in a run as the Mustangs reached double digits for the 11th time this year.
Katie Roseland entered the game tied for second in Class 3A with 10 home runs. ... Through Tuesday, Paige Miller led the Mustangs' lineup with a .486 batting average followed by Taylor Fricke (.438) and Mariah Fritz (.434). In total, East Marshall had seven players hitting better than .300 entering postseason play, while the Tigers had just two. East Marshall is seeking a return trip to the state tournament in Fort Dodge where they placed fifth a year ago.