Everything seemed to be going the way of No. 5 (Class 5A) West Des Moines Valley Thursday night at Rogers Park.
And that was exactly what defending state runner-up Johnston and Lauren Thilges wanted.
The top-ranked Dragons plated a run in the eighth inning courtesy a Thilges RBI, sending Johnston back to the state finals with a 6-5 victory over the Tigers in a game that spanned five-plus hours thanks to a lengthy rain delay.
Thilges, the daughter of former Fort Dodge Senior High graduates Denny and Amy (Reiners) Thilges, admitted that late-game rallies and withstanding weather issues were nothing new to the Dragons.
"It just seems like we've had these kind of games all year long, so the delay wasn't an issue for us," Thilges said. "It actually helped in a way because we were able to focus and get settled down before coming back out."
Valley (27-13) jumped out to a 3-0 lead following a home run by Anna Gernant in the first, adding another run in the second. As soon as Johnston plated its run, the game was halted for three-plus hours due to lightning and rain that hit the area.
WDM VALLEY 5 (8 inn.)
Valley310 000 10 - 5 9 0
Johnston001 202 01 - 6 14 2
Kasey Feldt (L, 15-7, 7 2/3 IP, 14 H, 6 ER, 1 K, 5 BB) and Mackenzie Jones; Haylee Towers (W, 24-0, 8 IP, 9 H, 3 ER, 8 K, 1 BB) and Addy Pender. HR-V: Anna Gernant, Mandi Roemmich. 2B-V: Mandi Roemmich, Hailey Heinen; J: Brooke Wilmes (2), Madison Thilges, Brooke Sandstoe.
The Dragons struck first after the delay, scoring twice in the fourth to tie things up at 4-all. After taking the lead in the sixth, Mandi Roemmich cranked a solo homer over the fence to even the score.
"We just never gave up," Thilges said. "We kept fighting and working to get back in it."
Johnston's Brooke Wilmes doubled in the eighth off Kasey Feldt, moving Sandstoe to third. Valley, which lost three of four to the Dragons during the regular season, opted to intentionally walk Stanzy Snyder.
That loaded the bases for Thilges, who connected on a shot right back up the middle. Valley's shortstop, Brooke O'Hollearn, scooped it and fired to home, getting the second out. However, the Tigers tried to turn the double play, allowing Sandstoe to come all the way from second.
"When I made contact, I thought I had a hit for sure," Thilges said. "But (O'Hollearn) made a great play. I saw Brooke rounding third and knew she was headed home, so I just ran as hard as I could."
Snyder was 3-for-4 with a run and an RBI for Johnston, who will face either Dowling in a rematch of the state finals from a year ago or Southeast Polk tonight at 7 p.m. Wilmes and Addy Pender each had two hits, while Thilges finished with three RBI.
Valley, which will play for third, was led by Roemmich, who went 4-for-4 with two RBI and two runs.