Few schools across Iowa can even come close to matching Newell-Fonda's recent success on the softball diamond.
Making their sixth state tournament appearance since 2005, the No. 4 Mustangs (34-7 overall) will face 10th-ranked Charter Oak-Ute (27-12) in a Class 1A quarterfinal here today. First pitch is set for 11:30 a.m. on Diamond 2 at Rogers Sports Complex.
Prior to this season, Newell-Fonda captured a 1A state crown in 2008 and settled for runner-up honors in 2006, 2009 and 2010.
"We felt like we had a shot again (at reaching state) if we continued to get better," said N-F head coach Dick Jungers, who owns a 345-114 mark in his 12 years at the helm. "Our kids have shown a great deal of focus after falling just a little short (of qualifying) last year."
Winners of 12 straight games, the unbeaten Twin Lakes Conference champion Mustangs advanced to Fort Dodge with postseason triumphs over West Bend-Mallard (6-3), Southeast Webster-Grand (7-0) and No. 12 Marcus-Meriden-Cleghorn (14-1). Newell-Fonda enters state play averaging 7.7 runs per game, while allowing just 2.7.
"I feel like we have good balance in our batting order, and many kids have stepped up and got timely hits, which is a must in the postseason," Jungers said. "We're definitely playing our best ball of the season right now at the perfect time."
Ace senior hurler Jenna Falline (24-4) will receive the starting nod in the circle for the Mustangs. Falline, who previously pitched Newell-Fonda to the 1A title contest as a freshman and sophomore, sports a 1.24 ERA with 192 strikeouts in 175 innings of work. In 27 outings this year, Falline has surrendered only 124 hits and held opponents to a miniscule .189 batting average.
"Jenna has just pitched tremendously well all season long," said Jungers, who has also guided N-F to four state trips on the hardwood. "Our defense has also really came around since the start of the year."
Top offensive threats for the Mustangs are senior Alyssa Henrich (.435 BA, 60 H, 51 R, 34 RBI, 29 SB), sophomore Renee Maneman (.409 BA, 59 R, 56 H, 54 SB), freshman Brianna Wells (.400 BA, 44 H, 30 R, 25 RBI) and sophomore Jade Hess (.370 BA, 37 H, 28 R, 19 RBI). Newell-Fonda, which holds a .326 team batting average, has also swiped 145 bases in 156 attempts (92.9 percent).
"Our competitiveness and ability to come to work every day is real similar to some of our previous teams," Jungers said. "We can still draw the on the past, but at the same time, each year definitely presents a unique experience and a new challenge."
Charter Oak-Ute, which is making its fourth all-time state appearance and first since falling to Newell-Fonda in the '06 1A semifinals, ousted A-H-S-T (11-3), Woodbine (4-0) and Exira-EHK (6-1) en route to state. The Bobcats, who placed second in the Western Valley Activities Conference South Division at 12-4, are anchored by senior Nicole Dobernecker (.613 BA, 68 H, 61 RBI, 53 R, 19 HR), senior Kendall Corbitt (.426 BA, 55 H, 43 R, 22 RBI), sophomore Ashley Goslar (.393 BA, 46 H, 38 SB, 36 R) and sophomore Ally Mordhorst (.366 BA, 41 H, 21 R, 21 RBI). Dobernecker, who has blasted 43 career round-trippers, leads the entire state this season in both long balls and slugging percentage (1.297) and ranks second in batting average and third in on-base percentage (.677).
"They're a hot team that hits the ball really well," said Jungers of CO-U. "Dobernecker is a great softball player, and their pitcher (junior Katelyn Leisinger) is very effective at moving the ball around the zone and throwing strikes."
Leisinger has compiled a 15-8 record and a 2.35 ERA in 137 innings, spanning 24 appearances.
As always, Jungers and the Mustangs are banking on a dedicated fan following.
"Our fans have been very supportive and very passionate about softball and love to go to Fort Dodge," Jungers said. "My hat's off to them for giving us an extra lift, especially in tight situations."
Today's winner between the Mustangs and Bobcats advances to meet either third-ranked Martensdale St. Mary's (38-2) or LeMars Gehlen (24-10) in a 1A semifinal here Thursday at 11 a.m. on Diamond 1.