Claudia Farrell called Fort Dodge a second home to the West Des Moines Dowling softball program.
The Maroons proved just how comfortable they were at Rogers Park in the Class 5A state championship game here Friday.
Farrell pitched her way to all-tournament captain honors as Dowling erased the memories of a tumultuous regular-season conclusion with a 5-2 victory over Johnston on Diamond 1.
Dowling (34-11 overall) is no stranger to the state spotlight, with visits here in four consecutive seasons. This was the school's first softball crown since 2004, though, meaning last night's trophy celebration was long overdue in the eyes of Farrell and her teammates.
''We've been coming up here for as long as I can remember - since I was in middle school,'' said Farrell, a 5-foot-1 sparkplug who struck out 30 batters in 21 innings of tourney work this week. ''Fort Dodge is like our home away from home. We've been working hard and waiting patiently to make it this far (to the finals), so once we finally got here, we wanted to end it the right way.
''It's the best feeling in the entire world. I can't smile big enough.''
DOWLING 5, JOHNSTON 2
Johnston 000 200 0 - 2 5 2
Dowling 000 212 x - 5 6 1
Haylee Towers (L, 21-6; 6 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 10 K) and Addy Pender; Claudia Farrell (W, 20-6; 7 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 7 BB, 9 K) and Meaghan McCarthy.
2B-D: Jessica Bastian. 3B-D: Kaitlyn Mauck; J: Brooke Wilmes. HR-D: Meaghan McCarthy. SB-D: Kaila Konz; J: Brooke Wilmes. LOB-Johnston 10, Dowling 4. T-1:37.
The Dragons (32-12), who finished in a three-way tie with the Maroons and West Des Moines Valley for the Central Iowa Conference's Western division title in the regular season, grabbed a 2-0 lead in the fourth on a two-run triple by eighth-grade leadoff hitter Brooke Wilmes. Dowling immediately knotted the score in the bottom half of the same frame, though, then plated a run in the fifth and two more in the sixth.
Catcher Meaghan McCarthy socked a two-run homer in the sixth to provide Farrell and the Maroons with some insurance. Farrell did the rest and sealed the program's third softball crown.
''The offense came up with some big, clutch hits,'' the junior said. ''We didn't get discouraged (down 2-0) and really had faith that we could find a way to pull through.
''I had a lot of nervous energy early, but my teammates really calmed me down. (The familiarity factor) of being here (at Rogers Park) was big - we love it here.''
For the tournament, Farrell worked three complete games and allowed only four earned runs. She walked seven Dragon batters Friday and issued 15 free passes in all this week, but wiggled out of several jams with clutch strikeouts. Johnston stranded 10 runners on base.
''Claudia was living on the edge a little, but she pulled through like a champion when it mattered most. You can say that about our entire team,'' DHS head coach Matt Murillo said. ''These kids weren't going down without a fight. I think they enjoyed being in that underdog role. Everyone had kind of forgotten about us.''
After a 28-6 start to their year, the Maroons dropped five of their last six games before the postseason began. The tournament was a completely different story, however, as Dowling reeled off five straight wins by a combined scoring margin of 31-6. That stretch included a surprising 5-0 shutout victory over second-rated and defending state champion Ankeny on Thursday night in the semifinals.
''We had a few bumps in the road (late), but our players really came together and got down to business once we reached the postseason,'' Murillo said. ''I'm so happy for them. This is a wonderful experience they'll remember forever.''
Farrell joined teammates Alicia Crivaro and Kaila Konz on the 5A all-tournament squad. Lauren Thilges, the daughter of Fort Dodge Senior High graduates Denny and Amy (Reiners) Thilges, also made the elite list of players with fellow Dragons Hannah Berger and Haylee Towers.