If it’s one thing that’s defined the Atlantic softball team the most this past season in coach Terry Hinzmann’s eyes, it’s probably “perseverance.”

Coming off a pair of seasons that saw disappointing regional losses – a stunning loss to Carroll Kuemper in the district opener in 2019, and a narrow but still tough-to-swallow defeat by Creston a year ago – the Trojans were determined to make amends this year.

Just moments before, his Trojan softball players were asked what motivated them this past season. He said that if one were to ask last year’s seniors, Kenzie Waters and Reagan Pellett, what they remember most about that season, it was that loss we had to Creston that very quickly ended their season. (Truthfully, one could have posed the same question to 2019 seniors Karsyn Rush and Baylee Newell.)

Fast forward a year or two, and there’s a team that, according to Hinzmann, worked hard during the off-season and did the things to ensure that a three-peat – ergo, a regional round exit – would not happen.

“Not just ‘perseverance’ but motivation to not allow that to happen and go on to state,” he continued. “If we played like we did the other night, I don’t think anyone can beat us.”

That attitude has gotten Atlantic back to the state tournament for the first time in three years. After a 5-0 Iowa Class 3A regional final win over MOC-Floyd Valley that was likely one of the most impressive games in recent memory, the Trojans now have their sights set on the state tournament and their quarterfinal opponent, Anamosa.

Today’s Class 3A game between the fourth-seeded Trojans and the No. 5 Blue Raiders is 7:30 p.m. on Iowa Central Field at Harlan Rogers Sports Complex in Fort Dodge.

A win will mean a trip to the semifinals and two more games guaranteed. The semifinal opponent will be either top-ranked Davenport Assumption (37-3) or No. 8 Clarke (17-11). That game would be at 3 p.m. Wednesday at Kruger Seeds Field. Waiting on the other side of the bracket are second-seeded Mount Vernon, No. 3 Williamsburg, No. 6 West Liberty and seventh-seed No. 7-seed Estherville-Lincoln Central.

The third-place and state championship games are Friday, the third-place game at 1 p.m. on Iowa Central Field and the championship game 2:30 p.m. at Kruger Seeds Field.

All eight teams are going to be excellent and Hinzmann knows that only the best survive.

“You’re going to have to play your A game to beat them, but we’re clearly capable of doing that,” he said. “Five losses aren’t very many and we avenged three of those losses.”

Anamosa is one of those teams that also comes from a top-grade conference, the River Valley Conference, which sent four of its 14 teams to state (Iowa City Regina and Wilton in Class 2A and, besides the Blue Raiders West Liberty in Class 3A). But the Trojans are confident in their chances in today’s game.

“I think as long as we play like we did the other day (against MOC-Floyd Valley) and our defense is solid, we’ll be OK. We’ll just need to get our bats going and play off each other,” said senior Caroline Pellett.

“I think it’s going to be hitting is what the game’s going to come down to,” added fellow senior Lauren Nicholas.

TALE OF THE TAPE

Champions of the Hawkeye Ten Conference at 19-1, Atlantic has a school-record 33 wins on the year against just five losses. Two of those losses were avenged earlier in the year, including to Ballard (a Class 4A regional finalist) and Ankeny (which just missed state in Class 5A). To get to state, the Trojans downed Red Oak (10-2), Cherokee (10-0) and MOC-Floyd Valley (5-0).

If it’s any one thing that Atlantic has been most adept at, it’s offense. The Trojans have a team batting average of .365, with eight of their top batters north of .300 at the plate. Four of them are above .400: senior Alyssa Derby (.459, 52 runs on 51 hits, 47 RBI), senior Madison Botos (.425, 46 runs on 54 hits, 26 RBI), sophomore Jada Jensen (.408, 33 runs on 42 hits, 25 RBI) and senior Olivia Engler (.402, 45 hits, 52 RBI). Well over 40% of their 242 base hits, 117 to be exact, have gone for extra bases, including 23 home runs. (Engler has 12, fourth best in Class 3A.) The Trojans have been successful steal bases, with 126 in 133 attempts.

Defense typically has been strong, with 39 on the year, just over one per game.

Engler is one of the top pitchers in the state, with a 22-5 record and a 1.22 ERA with two saves. In 166.1 innings, she’s struck out 255 batters and has walked 34. The second option is fellow senior Kennedy Goergen, who has an 11-0 record and a 1.114 ERA, with six walks and 51 strikeouts.

Anamosa (32-9) – making its third state tournament appearance in school history but first since back-to-back appearances in 1995 and 1996 – plays in a traditionally strong conference, the River Valley Conference, whose North Division the Blue Raiders won with an 18-1 record. They beat North Fayette Valley (12-0), Monticello (10-0) and Crestwood (4-1) to advance to state. They also have wins over state teams like West Liberty and Iowa City Regina.

The team hits .321 as a team, and the top of the lineup has a couple of very strong threats in Grace Lubben and Lexi Bright, both seniors. Lubben ranks in the top five in batting average (.529), RBIs (54) and stolen bases (35), while Bright has the fifth-best RBI total with 53. Emily Watters has a .514 average and has driven home 30 runs to go along with 61 hits.

Like the Trojans, the Raiders run the bases well, with 123 stolen bases in 134 attempts. Defense is excellent here as well, with just 44 on the year, a little more than one per game.

The likely starter will be Watters, who has gone 21-6 on the year. In 162.2 innings of work, she has an 0.86 ERA with 331 strikeouts (best in Class 3A) and just 31 walks. Junior Mady Meeker (6-0, 1.59 ERA) and freshman Dilynn VanMeter (5-3, 4.83 ERA) will probably back her up if needed.

To reach Brian Rathjen, send correspondence to sports@ant-news.com or phone (712) 243-2624.

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