It seemed Emily Ira had done it all during her prep career.
Ira established herself as one of the state’s best pitchers last season as a junior.
She piled up strikeouts and wins while helping Solon reach the state tournament four straight seasons, including a runner-up finish last year.
Ira earned all-state honors, she collected awards, tossed a no-hitter and even hit a few home runs.
The only thing that eluded Ira and her Solon teammates was a state title.
Ira made sure she took care of that this season.
The Solon senior ended her brilliant career by winning six straight postseason starts to lift the Spartans to the Class 3A state title.
For all of her accomplishments Ira has been named the 2015 Press-Citizen softball pitcher of the year.
“It felt good to finish strong like that,” Ira said. “To finish with a win is one of the best feelings ever and to know that it’s our last game ever in high school is amazing.”
Ira sparkled last season as a junior, posting a 23-2 record and a 0.74 ERA.
However, the season ended with a thud in the form of a 5-0 setback to Dallas Center-Grimes and Missouri recruit Paige Lowary in the Class 4A state championship game.
That loss, which she allowed four earned runs in, hung with Ira for months. It capped a tough state tournament for Ira.
While battling a back injury, Ira allowed more than half of her season total of earned runs in 20 innings.
“It was disappointing and I took it on myself really bad,” Ira said. “As a pitcher you always take it out on yourself if you don’t win.”
Over time the pain of that loss slowed turned into motivation.
“It pushed me to get ready this fall,” Ira said of the season-ending loss. “I learned now to not take it on myself but to find ways to improve and not look at the negatives.”
By the time her senior season started, Ira was focused solely on the state title that had eluded her.
That razor-sharp focus showed in her performance.
Ira turned in the best season of her career as a senior, going 28-2 with a 0.53 ERA.
“Her confidence was higher, she had confidence in all her pitches and in herself, nothing was a big deal this year for Emily,” Solon coach Jim White said. “We had different umpires with different strike zones, she had home runs hit off her and I never saw her rattled.”
Ira was almost unhittable as a senior.
Opponents hit .087 off the left-hander, the lowest average in the state.
Her 0.53 ERA ranked fourth in Iowa and her 1.96 strikeouts per inning also led the state.
Ira allowed just 58 hits and struck out 363 batters, 87 more than her previous career high, in 185 innings of work.
“If you look at her strikeout numbers and the opposing batting average it was shocking how much the strikeouts went up and the batting average went down,” White said. “Most of the year she averaged almost 2 (strikeouts) per inning, which at 43 feet I thought was impossible, and the opponent batting average, she was just really, really tough to hit.”
Ira was as consistent as she was dominant.
She had 17 shutouts, five no-hitters and a pair of perfect games, including an 18-strikeout performance against Keokuk.
Ira posted double-digit strikeouts in 21 of her 29 starts this season and had only three starts of more than five innings that she failed to register at least 10 strikeouts in.
“My ball was moving even way more than I thought it was,” Ira said. “It was moving a lot and so that made me feel good about trusting myself and trusting my pitches.”
This season Ira got more dominant as the season went on.
She won her final 10 starts, including six in postseason play, and capped her career with a complete-game five-hitter against second-ranked Benton Community in the 3A title game.
Ira outdueled Benton Community all-stater and friend Amber Fiser in the title game.
“The last game last year kind of brought me down a little but she was a great pitcher,” Ira said. “It felt good to get back and finish it against a really good pitcher again this year.”
Ira allowed 18 hits and four earned runs in 36 postseason innings and allowed just two runs in 17 innings at the state tournament.
Ira walked 12 batters in the postseason and issued a career-high 35 free passes this season, something that White felt actually made Ira better.
“She was a tad bit wilder this year but I actually think that helped her,” White said. “When I first started coaching her I couldn’t get her to throw a ball at all and this year just being a little wilder people just had no idea what to sit on. Maybe she had two walks a game versus zero or one walk a game but she was going to strike out 14 and they were going to get one or two hits or maybe three, but that was basically the way it played out no matter how good the team was we were facing.”
Ira, who will play at Western Illinois next season, didn’t just enjoy the best season of her career in the circle.
She also had an impressive season at the plate, batting .588 and tying teammate Sydney Lawson for the state lead with 90 hits.
Ira had 21 doubles, three home runs and 58 RBI for a Solon offense that led the state in runs and team batting average.
“Being in the second spot, with all the great hitters around me I didn’t feel like I had as much weight on me,” Ira said. “Which is weird to say but for me to be there I could bunt, I could slap, I could hit and it wasn’t something I worried about. I could just go up and hit.”
Reach Ryan Murken at 319-339-7369 or email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @rmmurken.
•ERA: .53 (4th in the state)
•Strikeouts: 363 (3rd in the state)
•Opp. BA: .087 (1st in the state)
•Perfect Games: 2
•10+ Strikeout Games: 21