Restore the roar
By Friday night, the seventh-seeded Tigers were underdogs no more.
Feeling very overlooked and even a little disrespected, Valley used a rare opportunity to sneak under the radar as motivation when the postseason reset everything nearly two weeks ago. Now, head coach Tom Bakey’s Tigers are champions for the seventh time overall and first since 2010.
Valley caught, then passed, then finished off rival Waukee on a picture-perfect night Friday, defeating the Warriors 8-5 in the Class 5A championship contest on Kruger Seeds Field — Diamond 1 — at Rogers Park. The top-ranked and top-seeded Warriors were the last in a line of rivals to go down at the hands of the 32-10 Tigers, who spent the entire year ranked in the state’s Top-2 before a brief slump late transformed them from prohibitive favorite into a plucky, scrappy darkhorse.
Or so the narrative went when Bakey sold it to his players before tournament play began.
“We had a couple of awful days at the end of the (regular) season and had to regroup,” said Bakey, who has nearly 900 wins in his Hall of Fame coaching career. “These kids could’ve easily let it get to them, but instead, they got back to work. And we decided to use (the questions) as motivation, which was only magnified by our seed.
“Our players embraced it. They took that underdog persona and ran with it. They were barking in the dugout and just having a lot of fun. The energy (in this tournament) was phenomenal from start to finish.”
Down 2-1 after the first inning and 4-2 through two, Valley began to turn the tide against Waukee (40-4) with a relentless offensive attack and flawless defense. The Tigers plated two runs in the fourth, fifth and seventh frames against Elly Bates (21-2), who had beaten VHS twice during the regular season during CIML Iowa Conference race.
“(Bates) had our number up until (Friday) for the most part, but we got some good, timely two-out hitting and showed a lot of patience at the plate,” Bakey said. “I think (No. 8 hitter) Gianna Lara’s homer (in the second) really started to turn the tide. She hit that ball into outer space … I don’t think it’s landed yet.”
Lara had four hits and scored three runs, while Hailey Etzel was 2-for-4 with four RBI. Star shortstop Alex Honnold was 2-for-3 with a pair of runs, and Maggie House drove in a pair.
Haley Gatica (18-4), a senior transfer from Ankeny Centennial, earned the win and had three hits at the plate. She was named the all-tournament team captain.
“We’re living the dream,” a hoarse Gatica said afterward. “This is just an incredibly experience. We put in so much work for this moment, but it’s all worth it now,”
Gatica, a Creighton University recruit, then laughed about almost losing her voice and added, “I’m speechless … literally.”
The Tigers, who started six seniors and three juniors in their seventh consecutive trip to Fort Dodge for state, recorded 16 total hits. They first took the lead at 6-4 in the top of the fifth, then added two insurance runs in the top of the seventh to all but end Waukee’s title hopes.
Delaney Taylor had two hits for the Warriors, who went 2-3 against Valley and 38-1 versus everyone else on their schedule. Heidi Wheeler and Reagan Bartholomew both drove in a pair.
The Tigers were swept by both Southeast Polk and Fort Dodge to conclude the regular season. They exacted revenge on the homestanding Dodgers in the quarterfinals, though, and doubled up Iowa City High to reach the title bout.
“We never pointed fingers or got too down on each other. There wasn’t doubt in our potential and ability,” Bakey said. “I’m enjoying this immensely. We are truly blessed to have a community that supports and loves softball the way we do. Our program is very fortunate.
“We got back on track at the right time, the kids didn’t stop believing, and we’re going to really have fun with this celebration.”
WDM VALLEY 8, WAUKEE 5
WDM Valley 110 220 2 — 8 16 0
Waukee 220 010 0 — 5 7 3
WP–Haley Gatica (18-4; 7 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 1 K). LP–Elly Bates (21-2; 7 IP, 13 H, 7 R, 6 ER, 3 BB, 5 K). 2B–V: Haley Gatica; W: Heidi Wheeler, Delaney Taylor, Jalyn Yaukovitz. 3B–W: Reagan Bartholomew. HR–V: Gianna Lara. SB–W: Heidi Wheeler, Delaney Taylor.