Down 4-1 in the top of the sixth inning to top-ranked Carlisle in the semifinals of the Class 4A State Softball Tournament, July 24, Claire Demmer and her sixth-ranked West Delaware Hawk teammates did what they have done all season long — they rallied.
With two outs and the bases loaded, Demmer delivered yet another unforgettable, almost unbelievable postseason moment for her squad, cracking a double off the center-field fence that drove in three runs — and set the table for the Hawks to take their first lead of the afternoon.
“I knew I had to be the one to get it done. I just thought about how much we all wanted to be here and how badly we all wanted to win this game — I needed to keep that going,” Demmer said of the at-bat.
Demmer knew she wasn’t alone out there when she pulled the trigger on that fateful pitch from one-loss pitcher Molly Hoekstra.
“When we’re looking for somebody to pull us back together, Claire is the one to do it,” Hawk coach Tiffany Rave said. “I looked her in the eyes in the huddle and said, ‘I wouldn’t pick anybody else’,” Rave said.
The result was a ballgame to end them all. Now tied 4-4, the Wildcats fumbled on a pitch that sent Demmer scrambling in for the lead.
“It gave us hope,” leadoff hitter Eve Wedewer added. “It gave us a chance that we thought we didn’t have.”
Carlisle opened the bottom half of the sixth with a Reagan Roling double and sent her to steal third moments later. Hawk star Macey Kleitsch struck out the next batter to reset the rhythm for her team after that, and Kennedy Preston popped one out to Heather Heims at second base for the second out.
The Wildcats had left runners on base all afternoon to this point, but this time junior Delaney Schnathorst was on top of things as she dished out an RBI-single to tie it up 5-5. Kleitsch struck out Alyvia Dubois to end the inning.
Tehya Demmer battled a 2-2 count before opening the seventh with a powerful hit to left field but was robbed by an equally impressive catch from senior Allyx Lee. Shortly after, Leah Wegmann flew out to left for the second out.
Wedewer found her groove and belted one just inside the third baseline for a single, but Ella Koloc was sniped at second base to end the frame.
The Hawks made quick work of the Wildcats in the bottom of the seventh, however, as Tehya Demmer caught one in foul territory, Kleitsch fielded a liner to first and Heims caught an infield fly in rapid succession.
Kleitsch stayed patient to start extras and drew a walk, and an error at first put Heims on after that. The pair advanced to second and third on an infield fly from sophomore Eva Winn to bring Claire Demmer up for an encore. Demmer hit it hard to center field to bring Alissa Holtz (running for Kleitsch) home for the 6-5 lead. Hoekstra regained her composure moments later to strike out senior JoAnna Voss on a full count.
Three outs away from besting the best there is in 4A, Kleitsch did not relent from the circle. Hoekstra came into the box and the pair of aces played some mental games until they reached a full count that forced the former to swing in the direction of Winn’s glove in center field. One down.
Kennady Prenosil kept hopes alive by hitting a single just past the infield to send pinch-runner Isabelle Noring in at first for the Wildcats. The tension ramped up to a fever pace when junior Morgan Lose lined one right to Kleitsch for the second out.
That’s when Wildcat leadoff hitter Preston decided to have the final say. The junior catcher took a strike before crushing a no-doubter over the center-field fence to punch Carlisle’s (37-3) ticket to the state title game in stunning walk-off fashion.
The crowd at the Iowa City Field, and even those on the grounds of the greater Rogers Sports Complex, stood speechless.
Out in center, Winn had the closest view to the monster longball as it cruised past her reach. Her composure just 10 minutes later was admirable for anyone, let alone an underclassman.
“Off the fence, it was the best effort I could give,” Winn said of the play. “We could have pulled out the win, but it came down to little errors and congrats to them. That’s the best team in 4A. Being able to play them right now in this state tournament is pretty fun.”
Kleitsch shed plenty of emotion, yet remained composed as she talked about that eighth inning. With another ace on the bench, senior Emily Klostermann, every Hawk in the dugout knew that Kleitsch would never leave the game if things had gotten out of hand.
“I knew that Emily (Klostermann) would’ve been there to pick me up, but I knew I belonged there and I wanted to do my job. There’s just one pitch I regret,” Kleitsch said. “I’m disappointed, but we came up and played our hearts out. We came in as the underdog and we put up a fight and we did it and kept fighting. We worked so hard, just to see us all work together like that, I’m so proud of us.”
“She’s a gamer,” Rave said of Kleitsch. “That’d be the best way I could put it. That kid wants to play ball, she wants to win and she’s one of the most composed athletes I’ve ever had the opportunity of coaching. I could not be more proud of her two games she’s pitched in this state tournament. Especially this one, playing a team she’s never seen before. She has absolutely everything to be proud of.”
Rave doesn’t play favorites, however. It wouldn’t be possible — not with this team.
“They support each other no matter what, and you can see that — the team that doesn’t do that, doesn’t come back down 4-1 against the number one team in the state, doesn’t go up on them in the eighth inning,” Rave said. “Not very often do you get 14 kids that are this special,” Rave said. “These girls get it, they want to be a part of it, they like each other — they’re here to play ball, and we’re still one of four playing for third. We can get the opportunity to end this on a win.”