By Andy Krutsinger, Mt. Pleasant News
FT. DODGE ? New London and Akron-Westfield are no strangers to the state softball tournament. Next week?s Class 1A tournament will mark the fourth trip in six years for the Tigers. The Westerners will be making their third trip in a row.
Just five years ago, New London and Akron-Westfield were the two best teams in the class. Two straight dominant games in the circle for then-freshman Morgan Christner led the Tigers to the championship game.
New London scored four runs in the second inning and held a 4-0 advantage, but the Westerners stormed back with a run in the fifth and three in the sixth, and then walked off for a 5-4 win.
One year later, the current crop of New London players started to faze in to the Tiger program. Now seniors Camryn Blint, Breanna Mettler and Cason McSorley all started their freshman year and have been to the state tournament twice already.
Those three seniors are the only three upper classmen that appear regularly for New London. Of the 10 Tigers to take the field in their come-from-behind win over North Mahaska in the regional final, four of them are sophomores, two are freshmen and one is an eighth-grader.
On the other side of the coin, many of the Akron-Westfield is even younger. The Westerners had 13 different players see the field in their regional final against West Monona. Four of those players were eighth-graders, two were freshmen and three were sophomores.
The strength of Akron-Westfield lies within their top four hitters. Senior Brynn VanEldik is batting .467 this season. Senior Kiana Appley is hitting .429. Sophomore Jaden Harris is batting .425 and senior Danika Smith sits at .456.
Much like New London, Akron-Westfield relies on multiple pitchers instead of just one ace. Eighth-grader Natalie Nelson has been their workhorse, sporting a 1.35 ERA. Fellow eighth-grader Megan Meinen has been good as well, with a 0.58 ERA, and Harris? ERA is sitting at 2.46. Not one upper-classman has thrown a pitch for the Westerners this season.
New London catcher Layney Loyd will come into the game with the highest batting average on the field. Loyd has hit a scolding hot .490 this year. Sophomore Sydni Coleman is batting .436 to give the Tigers two hitters over .400.
New London?s offensive strength lies within their depth. Every one of their nine starting hitters bats over .300.
Camryn Blint and Coleman will likely continue to be the pitchers Coach Duane Blint relies on most when New London hits Ft. Dodge next week. Blint?s ERA sits at 2.78, and Coleman?s is at 3.94.
Class 1A should be up for grabs, especially with fourth-seeded Lisbon?s upset of No. 1 Kee, Lansing in the regional finals. Kee came into this season as the two-time defending state champion in the class.
Of the top 10 teams in the final IGHSAU rankings, only four will be in Ft. Dodge. No. 2 Collins-Maxwell, No. 3 Akron-Westfield, No. 4 AGWSR and No. 9 Lisbon come into the tournament with a ranking next to their names, but the other four teams in the field are unranked.
The action all starts on Monday, July 16. The first Class 1A game starts at 11 a.m. New London?s game will be the third to reach first pitch. It will begin around 1 p.m.