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CELEBRATION TIME IN OGDEN

Bulldogs capture their first-ever state softball championship

Messenger photo by Britt Kudla Denali Loecker celebrates after hitting a home run on Friday at Rogers Park in the 2A state championship game. For more photos, please visit CU.messengernews.net

Denali Loecker spent the summer chasing Iowa’s all-time softball home run record and she received plenty of notoriety during the process. But the record was never the goal, never the defining moment she sought.

What she really wanted was a state title.

The record is safe, but the future Iowa Hawkeye got what she wanted.

Loecker did it all yesterday evening inside the Rogers Sports Complex. She went 2 for 3 at the plate with a double, home run and two RBIs, and also twirled a four-hitter with seven strikeouts in the circle to help propel third-ranked Ogden to a 6-1 upset victory over No. 1 defending state champion North Linn in the Class 2A final on Kruger Field.

North Linn (25-1) entered the contest riding a 31-game winning streak, but the prohibitive favorite fell behind 4-0 in the second inning and never found a spark to challenge Ogden (22-3) over the final five innings.

“I feel like we had less pressure on ourselves because they were the No. 1 seed,” Loecker said after being named the captain of the 2A all-tournament team. “We just went in there to have fun and whatever happened, happened. I could tell we had lots of fun because every at bat we had smiles on our faces.”

Loecker, an intentional walk magnet, hit the 67th and final home run of her career in the fourth inning to increase Ogden’s cushion to 5-0. The no doubt blast into the trees in left field left her four behind all-time queen Kendyl Lindaman of Ankeny Centennial.

But Loecker wasn’t even thinking about what might have been had she had a full season to try to chase down Lindaman. She was too busy celebrating Ogden’s first-ever team state championship in any sport, boys or girls.

“I hadn’t really thought about the home run record before this year, but I’ve thought about that state title since I was little,” she said. “When we made it to state last year I said our next step was to be champions, and we finally got there.”

Gabby Ross went 3 for 4 with a double and two runs scored out of the No. 6 spot for the Bulldogs. She singled to ignite Ogden’s four-run second, an inning in which the Bulldogs sent 10 batters to the plate and were aided by a North Linn throwing error that pushed two runs across.

“It was nice to get that lead and keep that lead,” Ross, an all-tournament team member, said. “It was nice having that little bit of a cushion and then we just stayed level-headed. We knew we couldn’t get ahead of ourselves.”

Loecker crushed an inside offering down the line in left for an RBI double in the second. Following her home run in the fifth, she stepped to the plate one final time in the sixth inning.

North Linn hurler Abby Flanagan gave her one pitch that she fouled off before the Lynx opted to intentionally walk her — Loecker’s seventh of the state tournament.

Faith Mohr also found the gap — a liner to left-center — for an RBI double in the second.North Linn’s usually explosive offense had no answer for Loecker’s speed changes throughout the contest. The usually potent top of the Lynx lineup — Hanna Bridgewater, Katie Sommerfelt, and twins Abby and Grace Flanagan — went a combined 2 for 14 with five strikeouts.

“I was just going after them and I was mixing it up more than usual,” Loecker said. “It worked out very well for me.”

Abby Flanagan was on the hook for the loss. She walked five and fanned seven, but only two of Ogden’s runs were earned.

Hannah Dutcher added a single for Ogden. Jill Smith had North Linn’s only extra-base hit — a second-inning double to left.

Loecker credited the Ogden community for helping to prop up her team en route to the state crown. She says it will be a moment that few people around town will ever forget.

“Our community is so supportive,” she said. “They’re going to be excited for a long time.”

Ross was still trying to come to grips with the championship in the moments after the final out.

“I don’t think I’ve processed it yet,” she said. “It’s history, and it’s crazy to know that we’re a part of that.”

Ogden 6, North Linn 1

Ogden040 110 0 — 6 7 2

North Linn000 010 0 — 1 4 2

Denali Loecker and Faith Mohr. Abby Flanagan and Grace Flanagan. W — Loecker. L — A. Flanagan. Multiple hits — OG: Gabby Ross (3), Loecker. 2B — OG: Loecker, Ross, Mohr; NL: Jill Smith. HR — OG: Loecker. RBI — OG: Loecker (2), Mohr.

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