Hawks sweep Gilbert, eye third-place HOIC finish

JEWELL – In a dogfight early and on cruise control late, the South Hamilton softball team sent Gilbert limping down the highway with a pair of Heart of Iowa Conference losses on a perfect afternoon at the Mike Penning Athletic Complex on Thursday.

It wasn’t always easy, but the doubleheader sweep – the Hawks took Game 1, 10-9, and then dominated Game 2, 9-1 – assured head coach Laura Read’s club of a third-place finish in the league standings at 11-6 behind front runners Greene County and PCM.

How significant is that lofty status? South Hamilton opened the campaign 2-4 in the conference before reeling off nine wins in its last 11 outings. Only the two leaders trumped the Hawks over that 11-game stretch.

“Finishing third, that’s a big accomplishment for us this year,” Read said, noting her roster is devoid of seniors. “The girls are starting to know they have the ability to do it, so I think we’re in a really good place right now.”

Back at even-steven (14-14) for the first time since moments before the final pitch of the season opener, South Hamilton brought out the heavy lumber against the Tigers. The two-game set featured 19 Hawk hits, six of which went for extra bases. Gilbert (5-19, 2-14 HOIC) wasn’t exactly mute at the plate; the Tigers pounded 20 hits, including a double and two-run home run off the bat of Hannah Williams in Game 1.

Hawks’ freshman pitcher Leandra Diersen entered the day without a varsity victory, but she left with two. The right-hander came on in the fourth inning of Game 1 and settled down a rattled club and then controlled Game 2. Her 11-inning stint featured just three strikeouts and one walk, but her ability to spot her off-speed pitch befuddled the Tigers enough to keep them honest.

“(Diersen) has pitched against a lot of good teams … she just hasn’t gotten over that hump (until Thursday),” Read said. “She does a nice job of mixing in her off-speed pitches and that helps.”

The opener was exciting, but not exactly pretty. The combined 19 runs was only the headline; the two teams also strung up 22 hits and 13 errors.

Gilbert jumped out to a 6-4 lead after three innings and maintained the edge until the sixth. Kayla Lucas laced a two-out RBI single that plated Ronnie Olson, and pinch-runner Alissa Moss sprinted home with the tying run on a fielding error to knot the game at 6.

That left the spotlight for junior slugger Carly Swenson, and she delivered. She led-off the seventh by blasting a Clare Isenhart offering into orbit; the solo home run to straightaway center field, her third of the season and fifth of her career, put the Hawks ahead to stay.

“I didn’t really think about hitting a home run,” Swenson said. “I was just waiting for my pitch and thinking about the best way to get on.”

Kali Lucas also singled in the seventh and Ronnie Olson just missed her own dinger, as she laced an RBI double off the base of the fence in center. South Hamilton plated four runs in all to forge ahead 10-6.

The Hawks needed every one of them.

Gilbert responded by taking advantage of four Hawk errors in the bottom of the seventh and scored three runs. The Tigers had the winning run on second base when Diersen got Molly Laws to pop up to infielder Allyson Ervin to end the game.

“We were kind of anxious in that first game and nobody knew why,” Swenson said after her 2-for-4 effort. “We definitely came out more relaxed (in Game 2).”

Olson went 3-for-4 with two RBIs in the opener and Kenzie Busch added a two-RBI single in the first inning.

Kayla Lucas ripped three hits in three plate appearances and Ady Wintermote went 2-for-2 with two RBIs in the finale. Alyssa Hegland added a double and three RBIs.

The Lucas twins – Kayla and Kali – both lashed doubles, as did Wintermote.

South Hamilton will now gear up for the postseason, as it opens Class 2A regional play at home on Tuesday against Madrid. The first pitch is set for 7 p.m.