Any softball teams hoping to give Clear Creek Amana its comeuppance under first-year coach Rachel West had better come prepared.
The 11th-ranked Clippers beat back an upset try by West Branch on Friday in the first game of the Creek Classic, winning 6-4.
“I think a lot of people are underestimating what we can do,” CCA senior Tara Walls said. “I honestly think we’ll be just as good as we have before.”
CCA (1-1) lost a lot of talented seniors off the Class 4A third-place team. Then it lost long-time coach Jim White and several returning players to WaMaC rival Solon.
In addition, top pitcher Maliah Fligg had ACL surgery during the winter.
“Clear Creek is known for competing for state championships every single year,” West said. “That’s the same expectation I have.
“No matter what circumstance I had coming in, I’m not going to settle for a rebuilding year. We are going to compete this year for everything you do every other year.”
Friday in the opening game of what amounts to a WaMaC-Cedar Valley Conference challenge at Coralville Creekside Ballpark, West Branch used a couple Clipper errors to get out to a 3-0 lead.
In the first inning, Shannon Laing singled, took second on a passed ball and scored when the throw from the catcher went into the outfield.
In the second inning, Paige Miller reached on an error and scored on a double steal with Kara Fountain. Allie Russell then had an RBI infield single to make it 3-0 Bears.
“We started off aggressive,” West Branch coach Jason Laing said. “We did a good job the first half of the game keeping them off balance and forcing some errors from them.
“But then they kind of settled down once they cut the errors out of what they were doing.”
Once the Clippers settled down in the field, their bats came around as well. In the bottom of the first, Mallory Neubauer, Tara Walls and Molly Villhauer had consecutive singles before Eden Campbell delivered a two-run double to make it 3-2.
CCA tied the game at 4-4 the next inning when Walls smacked a two-run double.
“We just never get down on ourselves,” Walls said. “Just keep playing hard, keep playing our game.”
The Clippers took their first lead in the bottom of the sixth. Amy Brant reached on an error and scored on a single by Neubauer. Walls then delivered an RBI ground out to make it 6-4.
CCA’s Lexi Kinnard came into the game for the save. Meredith Hochstetter got the win over six innings.
Neubauer was 3-for-3 at the plate and Walls was 3-for-4.
“Those two are our returning starters, and great leaders for this team,” West said.
Shannon Laing hit 2-for-3 for the Bears. Baldwin had a double.
“Once CCA started to go, we showed our youth on our team,” coach Laing said. “We had mistakes towards the end of the game when you need to come through in those situations.”
Laing was happy to see the Bears, playing up two classes against the Clippers and Solon Spartans, get some valuable experience.
“We were a pretty good team last year, but finished fifth in our conference,” Laing said. “That’s really kind of saying something about how tough it was. And it’s not really going to change this year.”
For the Clippers, it was another chance to prove they aren’t suddenly low-hanging fruit.
“I think Clear Creek has always had a target on its back, and this year especially,” West said. “Teams are looking forward to beating Clear Creek. We’re ready to take on that challenge, and let people know we’re still here.”
Mary Baldwin and Paig Miller; Meredith Hochstetter, Lexi Kinnard (7) and Eden Campbell. W – Hochstetter. L – Baldwin. S – Kinnard. 2B – Baldwin (WB), Tara Walls (CCA), Eden Campbell (CCA).