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Softball: Game-Saving Catch Helps Prairie Get To State

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BETTENDORF, Iowa It's not a stretch to call it the biggest play in Cedar Rapids Prairie softball history.

Left fielder Halle Lueck robbed Tristen Zaruba of a game-tying, three-run home run in the top of the sixth inning, and Prairie tripped fourth-ranked Pleasant Valley, 3-2, in a Class 5A regional final Tuesday night at Pleasant Valley High School.

"Oh my gosh, she saved my butt," Prairie pitcher Katie Kuch said. "She can track the ball really well. She saved the game there."

A breakthrough season has now become a magical, historic season. The Hawks (28-14) advance to the state tournament for the first time; they'll face No. 2 Ankeny (32-10) in the first round next Tuesday at the Rogers Sports Complex, Fort Dodge.

"Unbelievable," said Prairie Coach Joe Yegge, who has engineered a one-year turnaround from eight wins to 28. "I'm still shocked. The kids have done everything I've asked. I couldn't be happier."

The Hawks scored all three of their runs in the bottom of the third inning, and Kuch blanked the Spartans (30-11) until a seventh-inning rally.

Pleasant Valley came into the game as the state leader in runs and home runs. But Kuch kept the Spartans from leaving the yard all night, though Zaruba made a serious bid.

With Prairie up 3-0 and two runners on base, Zaruba put a jolt into Kuch's offering, and the ball soared toward the left-field fence. Lueck, who stands 5-foot-7, tracked the ball, felt for the fence, leaped and made the catch over the 6-foot fence.

"We do a fence drill in practice," Lueck said. "You're reading the ball and you're listening for your teammates."

Pleasant Valley did score twice in the seventh, and an error by Lueck (the only one of the game, by either team) put the tying run at second base with two outs.

Erica Miller followed with a routine fly to left, Lueck snagged that one, and the Hawks were bound for Fort Dodge.

"I was a little nervous after the last one (a single by Haley Duwa) got by me," Lueck said. "I was able to redeem myself a little."

The Spartans collected eight hits against Kuch, but stranded 10 runners.

"You look at what they've done against the good teams, and we knew Prairie was going to be a good team," said PV Coach Lori Duncan. "We kept telling each other, 'We've got to stay loose.' "

Kuch said, "Coach just told me to hit my spots, try to jam them, get some fly balls and keep them from hitting the ball out of the park.

"This is an unbelievable feeling. We finally did it."

Mallory Jones started the third-inning rally, walking with one out. She eventually scored on a wild pitch, then Gabi Carter and Natalie Rumer rapped RBI singles to make it 3-0.

Prairie didn't seriously threaten after that, but one inning was enough.

And one big catch was key.

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