Softball: Olson Propels Jefferson To State Tournament
By K.J. Pilcher (Story) and Scott Saville (Video), Reporters
MUSCATINE, Iowa – It was a fitting end.
Cedar Rapids Jefferson's Alyssa Olson reached back and threw another pitch that avoided a Muscatine bat. The sophomore pitcher's performance was indicative of a tough, hard-nosed J-Hawk performance.
Olson struck out 13 batters, helping keep top-ranked Muscatine at bay and leading No. 10 Jefferson to a 7-0 victory in the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union Class 5A regional final at Kent Stein Park. The J-Hawks advance to the state tournament for the first time since 2009.
Olson said she was motivated by this year's seniors. Jefferson (31-11) lost in the regional final the last three years, but broke the streak, facing Ottumwa (36-6) in a 5A quarterfinal at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Rogers Park in Fort Dodge.
"We all wanted it so bad," Olson said. "We worked so hard, both physically and mentally, to get here. We prepared ourselves well."
Watch the final out and celebration
Olson dazzled on the mound, keep the Muskies potent offense off balance. She opened by striking out the side in the opening inning, allowing a walk. She did the same in the fourth, getting at least one strikeout in all but one frame.
"My pitches have a mind of their own and they do kind of what they want. Tonight they were on," Olson said. "I have an area in mind instead of a spot. That helps me more, because instead of seeing a narrow tunnel I see a big canyon."
They needed to be at crucial times of the game. The Muskies (37-4) threatened in the second, fifth and sixth innings, putting the first two batters on base. Olson slammed the door to home shut, closing the second and fifth with two straight strikeouts.
The second-inning shutdown kept the game scoreless until Erin Kuba's RBI single chased home Savannah Fowler to give Jefferson a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the inning.
In the fifth, thwarting the rally maintained the J-Hawks 5-0 lead that grew to 7-0 after Amber Grimm scored on Maddie Hansen's double to left and Katelynn Holub added an RBI single.
Olson forced three straight pop outs to end the sixth. Olson allowed six hits and walked two in the shutout.
"It's pretty nice have her on the (mound) for us," said Kuba, as the third baseman noted a couple errors didn't seem to faze Olson. "She helped us get out of it."
The win was far from a one-person show. The J-Hawks were balanced offensively and defensively. They were able to produce key hits at opportune moments.
Hansen led the way with three hits, leading to two runs scored by Fowler. Amber Grimm went 1-for-2, adding a walk, and scored twice.
"We played as a team tonight," Hansen said. "We were always out there for each other, getting those big hits, keeping us ahead. We knew we had that confidence."
Jefferson broke open the game with a three-run third, taking a 4-0 edge. After Brooke Stauffer opened with a hit, but was later forced out, Dani Stromert was hit by a pitch, Kaitlynn Davidson was hit by a pitch before Grimm and Hansen had consecutive hits. Grimm later scored on a double-steal when another runner instigated a rundown, making the J-Hawks seem like the more experienced team on the field.
"We knew we had to play our hearts out," Hansen said. "We were giving it all we got."
The J-Hawks demonstrated resilience and toughness throughout the entire game. They were confident coming in and were not intimidated taking Muscatine's home field as the home team and walking off with a state berth.
"We didn't fear them," Jefferson Coach Brian Erbe said. "We felt with Olson and the way we've been playing and hitting, we could play with anybody in the state."
They took the field with nothing to lose and everything to prove mentality. The envisioned a victory, despite coming up short for a Mississippi Valley Conference title. The celebrated by former a big huddle in the center of the infield after the final out and then sharing hugs with the numerous family, friends and Jefferson fans in attendance.
"It means a lot," Kuba said. "Nothing is bigger or better than going to state. We said coming in we have to play the No. 1 team at some point. It might as well be on their home field."
The win is especially sweet, capping Erbe's first season as Jefferson head coach returning to the program to take over for Larry Niemeyer. It's a testament to the program and the seniors, who have put in the time in the program and return to state for the first time since their eighth-grade season.
"We've had players in the freshman/sophomore and junior varsity program for four years behind last year's graduating group, but this is their first year as varsity ball players," Erbe said. "What a great year."