Locked in a pitcher’s duel with Cedar Rapids Jefferson’s Alyssa Olson, it was what Johnston junior did Haylee Towers with her bat that ultimately proved to be the difference.
Towers’ two-out double in the seventh inning turned into an important insurance run and helped second-ranked Johnston (35-4) hold off No. 3 Cedar Rapids Jefferson 2-1 in a Class 5-A state semifinal Thursday at Rogers Sports Complex.
The defending champion Dragons will face CIML foe Waukee (35-8) in the 5-A title game Friday at 4:45 p.m.
“We got one run right off the bat which gave us some kind of boost but you have to treat every inning like it’s 0-0 and you have to come through with insurance runs,” Towers said. “That one right at the end just proves how important insurance runs are.”
Towers ripped a two-out double in the seventh and courtesy runner Emma Ford scored on Hannah Espeland’s RBI single to give Johnston a two-run cushion.
That run proved valuable when Cedar Rapids Jefferson’s Hannah Town’s belted a one-out home run off Towers in the bottom of the inning.
That’s all Jefferson would get as Towers struck out pinch-hitter Sydney Briney and got Liv Erickson to ground out to second to end the game.
“Haley was outstanding, that’s the kind of pitcher she has been all year,” Johnston coach Todd Merical said. “In big games like this she just never gets rattled. There were some situations that she had to get out of and she did. She is a heck of a competitor.”
Towers did plenty with her arm Thursday as well.
The junior held a Cedar Rapids Jefferson lineup that entered the state tournament with a .384 team batting average and a 5-A best 321 runs to four hits and one run.
“It was a great pitcher’s duel, I thought both pitchers were outstanding,” Jefferson coach Brian Erbe said. “Towers just kept us off balance but I thought Alyssa (Olson), that might be the best game she threw all year.”
Johnston took a 1-0 lead in the first inning thanks to back-to-back doubles by Brooke Wilmes and Brooke Sandstoe.
Towers lined a two-out double into the gap in the seventh and Ford scored from second on Espeland’s single.
“I feel like it’s a different way we get here every year,” Towers said. “We work hard every way but we all stick together as a team and I think our team chemistry off the field really shows on the field when we need it the most.”
Jefferson didn’t have a hit until Kennedy Dighton led off the fifth with a single to left field.
The J-Hawks’ best scoring opportunity came in the sixth when Tori Brandon singled with two-outs. Maddie Hansen followed with a double down the left field line.
Towers escaped the jam when she got Erin Kuba to pop back to the circle.
The win sets up an all-CIML final.
Johnston won a pair of 4-1 games over fifth-ranked Waukee in a doubleheader back on June 3.
“Win our last game,” Towers said of the mindset for the championship. “You have to treat every game at the state tournament like it’s your last, you want to win until the end.”
Johnston…100 000 1—2 6 1
CR Jefferson…000 000 1—1 4 0
Leading hitters – J: Brooke Sandstoe 1×2, Haylee Towers 2×3; CRJ: Kennedy Dighton 1×3. 2B – J: Brooke Wilmes, Brooke Sandstoe, Ellie Roquet, Haylee Towers; CRJ: Maddie Hansen. HR – CRJ: Hannah Towns. W – Haylee Towers. L – Alyssa Olson.