SOLON – There were undoubtedly some uneasy moments for the orange-and-black clad fans in the standing-room only crowd at the Solon softball field on Friday.
The uneasy moments were few and far between in the Solon dugout.
Ali Herdliska and Nichole Oberthein both homered as top-ranked Solon (38-3) rallied from an early 2-0 hole to down No. 12 Mid-Prairie 12-2 in a Class 3A Region 5 semifinal in Solon.
The win was the ninth straight for Solon and sends the Spartans into the Region 5 title game, where they will face PCM on Monday at 7 p.m. in Grinnell.
“We knew we were going to hit the ball, the first time around was just a rough patch but we knew we would come out and hit,” Herdliska said. “I don’t think we were ever nervous.”
Mid-Prairie (22-13), seeking its sixth straight state tournament berth, built an early lead on second-inning solo home runs by Emma Troyer and Ali Naylor.
Solon made sure the lead was short-lived.
The Spartans tied the score with two runs in the third and broke the game open with a six-run fourth inning, capped by a two-run home run by Herdliska.
It was the sixth home run of the season for the senior second baseman in just 82 at-bats.
“We talked about coming into the game that we knew they were going to score and rather than just continuing to go forward we were sitting and waiting for them to attack,” Mid-Prairie coach Kara Beatty said. “I think that’s what kind of got us.”
Troyer snapped a scoreless tie when she led off the Golden Hawk second inning with a home run over the left center-field wall.
One batter later, Naylor lifted a towering solo shot down the left-field line that gave Mid-Prairie a 2-0 lead against Solon starter Emily Ira.
“I was hitting my spots, they are just a really good offensive team,” Ira said. “They knew where to hit it and where to place it.”
Solon didn’t waste any time answering.
The Spartans evened the score on an RBI single by Herdliska in the top of the third inning.
Solon took control from there, sending nine batters to the plate and hammering five hits in the six-run fourth inning that made the score 8-2.
No. 9 hitter Lexi Stebral gave Solon its first lead at 4-2 with a two-run double.
Emily Ira had an RBI single and Taylor Nearad added a sacrifice fly to make it 6-2 Solon before Herdliska drove a pitch over the fence to make it 8-2.
“I was just trying to get it to 2-1 to be honest with you, I wanted to cut into the lead and get the momentum back a little bit and luckily we got to 2-2,” Solon coach Jim White said. “We kept working the short game and once we got the lead we had them swing and it was boom, boom. Lexi Stebral’s hit was huge.”
After allowing the two solo home runs in the second Ira settled in and limited Mid-Prairie to just three hits in the final five innings.
The senior left-hander struck out 17 in the complete-game victory while improving to 24-2 on the season.
“We knew they were a good hitting team so we knew they were going to put some runs up,” Ira said. “I knew that my team would get us some runs, we chipped away and it all seemed to work.”
Nine different Solon players had a hit on Friday and seven different Spartans drove in a run.
Ira was 3-for-3 with an RBI, Herdliska was 3-for-4 and drove in three runs and Nearad added three RBI.
“Our hitting is definitely contagious,” Herdliska said. “We all know we can hit the ball and we all believe in each and every player on this team.”
Troyer finished with two hits and took the loss for Mid-Prairie, which missed out on the state tournament for the first time since 2009.
Reach Ryan Murken at 319-339-7369 or email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @rmmurken.
Solon…002 601 3—12 13 1
Mid-Prairie…020 000 0—2 5 2
W—Emily Ira. L—Emma Troyer.
2B—Lexi Stebral (SOL);
HR—Emma Troyer, Ali Naylor (MP); Ali Herdliska, Nichole Oberthein (SOL).