GRINNELL – Emily Ira admitted she wasn’t at her best on Monday.
Even without her best, Ira was certainly more than good enough.
Ira struck out 14 in a complete-game three-hitter as Solon returned to the state tournament for the fifth straight season with a 5-1 win over PCM, Monroe in the Class 3A Region 5 championship game at Grinnell High School.
“I probably wasn’t my best today. Maybe at the end I was, but I just couldn’t find it right away,” Ira said. “Once I just started believing in myself and started pitching my game, it all started to go together.”
Top-ranked Solon broke a 1-all tie with a pair of runs in the third inning and Ira never let PCM get closer the rest of the game as the Spartans improved to 39-3 with their 10th straight win.
Solon will face defending 3A state champion Clarke (20-17) at 1:30 p.m. on July 21 in the opening round of the state tournament in Fort Dodge.
“They came in well prepared and were ready to go,” Solon coach Jim White said. “I told our kids it’s a 50-50 shot — we are both going for the same thing. This type of game is good for us.”
Ira walked Jayci Vos to lead off the second inning and allowed her only run of the game when Vos scored on a two-out wild pitch.
That was it for PCM, as Ira shut out the Mustangs over the final five innings.
“We know she is the best there is,” Solon junior shortstop Sydney Lawson said of Ira. “Even when she gives up a few hits, we have complete faith in her, so we weren’t worried about Emily at all.”
Solon took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Lawson was hit by a pitch and scored on Ali Herdliska’s RBI single.
PCM got its only run of the game when Vos scored on the Ira wild pitch in the second.
Solon wasted little time taking the lead back on a RBI double by Ira that scored Lawson in the third.
“It was really important to get those runs to win the game and win the inning,” Herdliska said. “We try to take things one step at a time and the next step was that inning.”
Solon added another run in the third when Ira scored on Jess Heick’s single to left field.
Pitching with a 3-1 lead Ira settled in and was her usual dominant self.
“Once we started getting runs and I knew we were getting on their pitcher, I didn’t have it on my shoulders as much, so I knew I could throw my game,” Ira said. “I relaxed then because I know I’ve got a good defense behind me.”
The three runs were more than enough for Ira, who allowed just a pair of singles and a walk over the final four innings.
The senior left-hander struck out at least one batter in every inning on Friday and fanned four of the final five hitters she faced as she improved to 25-2 on the season.
“I thought there at the end, the last two or three innings, you could tell she was going to do whatever she needed to do,” White said. “She was really good those last three innings.”
Solon added single runs in the fifth and seventh, taking advantage of PCM errors in each inning.
Herdliska’s sacrifice fly in the seventh scored Taylor Nearad and gave Solon a 5-1 cushion.
The rest was all Ira, as she struck out the final two hitters to send Solon back to the state tournament.
“We are really confident in her,” Herdliska said. “She knows we’ve got her back and I think that helps her.”
Reach Ryan Murken at 319-339-7369 or firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @rmmurken.
Solon…102 010 1–5 7 1
PCM…010 000 0–1 3 3
Emily Ira and Monika Bevans. Rachael Freland and Courtney Bridges.
W – Emily Ira. L – Rachael Freland.
2B – Emily Ira (SOL).