VAN METER — The sun came out in Van Meter Monday evening just in time to shine on the Pella Christian Eagles at the start of their Class 2A Regional final game with the Bulldogs of Van Meter. The Bulldogs came into the game with a record of 31-7 and the No. 4 ranking in the class. The Eagles sneaked into the game with a 16-18 record and were ranked only in the hearts of their fans. On the paper, it would be no problem for the Bulldogs, but the game is not played on paper.
The Eagles basked in the sunshine of the moment and fired the first salvo in the top of the first inning. Bailey Roose led off with a hooking drive into the left field corner for a double and with one out, Emri Agre worked the Bulldog pitcher for a base on balls. Natalie Harrill stepped to the plate and on a 2-2 count blasted a towering shot to center field that cleared the barrier with plenty to spare. The PC crowd was electric, but there was more to come.
With a 3-0 lead, Alexa Dunsbergen went to the circle to challenge a hard hitting Bulldog lineup. The crafty little pitcher scattered nine hits, but she was able to keep the Bulldogs off balance with good location, good movement, and changing speeds. She threw strikes and trusted her defense to make plays, and make plays they did. The Eagles had only one error for the game.
The powerful hitting Van Meter team peppered the left and center fields with some long drives and screaming shots that the PC defense would turn onto outs. The outfield play of Agre in center and Anna Bonnett in left was superb. Bonnett turned in the play of the game with a diving stab of a scorching drive by Shea Rhodes to nip a Bulldog attempt to take the lead.
The game would showcase the determination and maturity this team has gained over a year of competition in the rugged Little Hawkeye Conference. There is a difference between competing in a 3A/4A conference that a 1A/2A league and the Eagles relish that competition.
“We made a statement for the Little Hawkeye Conference tonight,” PC coach Karen Harrill said. “We were battle tested and prepared for this tournament. Alexa did a great job with a tight strike zone and she adjusted well. We fought to the end and answered every challenge. Natalie gave us a great start and we never gave up the lead. I am so happy to take her and the team to Fort Dodge. Natalie and the whole team have been a joy to coach.”
The Eagles entered the top of the sixth with the game hanging in the balances and a 5-4 lead. Leadoff hitter, Bailey Roose, was at bat and she hit a sizzling ground ball just over the third base bag for a single. Agre used the “Wee Willie Keeler” philosophy of hitting in the next at bat. “Wee Willie” said, “I hit’em where they ain’t” and that is just what Agre did as she dropped a single behind the second base bag just out of everyone’s reach.
Harrill had gotten the attention of the Bulldogs and they gave her an intentional walk to load the bases. It looked like the gutsy call might work as the second out of the inning was recorded on a popup to left. But Dunsbergen made the Bulldogs pay with a line shot into the gap in left-center to score two runs and give the Eagles a little breathing room with a 7-4 lead.
In the bottom of the sixth, Dunsbergen gave up a leadoff double and a walk, but used a strikeout, a sacrifice fly and a fielder’s choice to dodge another bullet and take her team into the top of the seventh with a 7-5 lead.
The top of the seventh will be one to remember for the Eagles as Bonnett laced a triple into the right field corner to lead it off. With one out, Roose coaxed a base on balls and Faith Kacmarynski singled for a run. Agre doubled for her fourth hit of the game scoring Roose. Once again the Bulldogs chose to give Harrill a free pass. Emma Eekhoff plated another run with a ground out to the right side and then Dunsbergen would strike again. Her two-out single scored the final two runs for the Eagles and there was joy in the camp.
Dunsbergen went back to the circle and hurled a scoreless bottom of the seventh. The Eagle side of the field was beamed up while there was quietness on the home side of the field.
Natalie Harrill was thrilled not only to be going to Fort Dodge, but to be able to get her team off to a quick start with her big blast.
“It was a thrill to get it out and give us the momentum.” Harrill said. “We have played a lot of tough competition and it just made us better. We matured as the season went on and that maturity carried us tonight. I have dreamed about this since I was a little girl and every year, I wanted so badly to go to state. I have loved living this dream with my mom.”
The top of the Eagle order inflicted a lot of damage on the Bulldog hopes and one of the chief instigators was Agre. She was on base five times with four hits and a walk to fuel the Eagle effort. Harrill was also on base five times and Roose was on the base paths four times.
“I just told myself before the game that I was going to play as hard as I can,” Agre said. “My teammates are amazing and they played so well tonight. We were well prepared by the Little Hawkeye competition and I love to ambush people.”
The Eagles will take a 17-18 record and a No. 8 seed to Fort Dodge where they will face off with the top-seeded Wilton Beavers (28-3) at 3 p.m. Monday. And you can be assured that plans for another ambush are being formulated for that matchup.
Pella Christian 3 0 1 0 1 2 5 12 14 1
Van Meter 2 0 1 0 1 1 0 5 9 0
Pella Christian Battery – Alexa Dunsbergen (WP) 7 IP, 9 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 3 K and Sydney Nunnikhoven
Pella Christian hitting – Bailey Roose 2-for-3, Faith Kacmarynski 1-for-5, Emri Agre 4-for-4, Natalie Harrill 2-for-3, Emma Eekhoff 1-for-5, Dunsbergen 2-for-5, Anna Bonnett 2-for-4
Pella Christian runs – Roose 3, Kacmarynski 1, Agre 5, Harrill 2, Bonnett 1.
Pella Christian RBI – Kacmarynski 1, Agre 1, Harrill 3, Eekhoff 2, Dunsbergen 4.
2B – Roose 1, Agre 1
3B – Bonnett 1
HR – Harrill 1