Leaders Collide: Top spot in NCC on line when Lynx host Gaels

WEBSTER CITY – Conference championships aren’t won or lost with more than half of the schedule still to complete. Still, if Webster City and Fort Dodge St. Edmond are looking for a good barometer to what the future could entail, they’ll get it tonight.

The two North Central Conference softball leaders will meet for the first time this season at Lynx Field at 7:30 p.m. The Lynx (8-3, 6-0 NCC) and 13th-ranked (Class 2A) Gaels (11-1, 6-0 NCC) hold a two-game edge in the loss column over Algona Bishop Garrigan, Iowa Falls-Alden and Humboldt.

“Our goal is to come out and play aggressively all the way through,” WCHS head coach Jess Howard said. “I think it’s going to be tough for a team to go undefeated in the conference this year. If you get set back one game, that doesn’t mean you’re out of the swing of things.”

Webster City has won two of the past three league crowns, including in 2013 with a 17-1 mark. St. Edmond was right behind the Lynx a season ago and entered this campaign as the odds on favorite to sit atop the standings in early July.

Only sixth-ranked (2A) Woodbury Central has upended St. Edmond so far this season, and the Gaels went into last night’s non-conference clash against Prairie Valley riding an eight-game winning streak.

Amanda Lansman, a junior, is the Gaels’ catalyst both offensively and defensively. She’s hitting .485 with three home runs and six RBIs, and in the pitcher’s circle she boasts an 11-1 mark with a paltry 0.86 ERA.

Maggie Harvey (.444), Jaci Stumpf (.436) and Anna Yung (.400) all swing big sticks as well for a St. Edmond squad that boasts a .353 team batting average.

But tonight’s encounter could come down to Lansman’s ability to slow down a speedy and explosive WCHS offense.

The Lynx are scoring runs at a feverish clip against league opponents. They’ve so far averaged 9.2 runs per game – tops in the NCC – thanks to a balanced lineup that blends quickness up top with power in the middle.

Lead-off hitter Allie Flaws has thrived since switching to the left side of the plate. The sophomore hits .432 and is second in 4A in stolen bases with 14. She’s been caught stealing just once.

Clean-up hitter Kaylee Schnathorst has uncorked all three of her home runs in the past week, and she leads the team in RBIs with 12.

Schnathorst can also turn on the jets when necessary; she’s 11-for-12 in stolen bases.

WCHS has six players hitting better than .300 and it’s 52-of-55 trying to steal bases. Only North Scott (62) has more stolen bases in the 4A class.

Harvey, just a freshman, is back behind the plate for St. Edmond. The returning all-conference catcher has had just five teams try to steal on her this season, but Howard says WCHS won’t change its strategy.

“We’re making use of the speed that we have,” she said. “(Harvey) is back and she was very good last year, so it’s going to be difficult to run on them, but we’ll take advantage of everything they give us.”

Mikaleh McCoy will get the start in the circle for the Lynx. She’s pitched every inning in conference play.