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Softball: Solon Rolls Past Maquoketa

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SOLON, Iowa Winning regional titles is nothing new for Jim White. After all, he won six state championships and more than 800 games at Clear Creek Amana.

"I've won quite a few of these by now," the first-year Solon coach said last night after his Spartans routed Maquoketa, 11-0, in five innings. "Now I just focus on helping the kids ..."

White was interrupted mid-sentence by a downpour of silly string. Within a few seconds, he was covered in it while the Spartans clapped and laughed around him.

"Now that's a first," he said.

White is back in the state tournament, but it's all a little bit new. His first season at Solon hasn't had much drama. The team has piled up a 40-2 record and outscored opponents 389-73.

The Spartans breezed past Maquoketa (22-17), getting a no-hitter from pitcher Emily Ira and ending the game on the mercy rule. Ira controlled the game from the start, striking out 10 batters and walking just two.

"I don't really notice it. I didn't even know until our assistant coach told me to look at the scoreboard," she said of the no-hitter. "I don't pay attention to hits and stats because it just gets me down."

Ira improved to 19-1 and her 0.74 ERA is fifth best in Class 4A. Her opponent batting average of .143 is fourth.

"It's an awesome thing," catcher Ali Herdliska said of catching Ira when she is on her game. "It's easy to keep her up when she's doing that, and our defense is really confident when she's doing that."

Solon also showed off plenty of offensive balance. Junior Mallory Madsen and sophomore Taylor Nearad have the third and fourth best batting averages in Class 4A, but the Lady Spartans did most of their damage elsewhere in the line-up.

Herdliska sent a first-inning pitch flying over the fence for her eighth home run of the season, giving Solon an early three-run lead. She drove in another run with an RBI single in the fourth inning.

"I was really ready to hit," she said. "I had some jitters, but I was ready to get out there."

Nearad hit a two-RBI double in the fourth inning and junior Riley Ogden hit a blooper that scored two runs in the fifth. Senior Kara Misel also had a pair of RBIs.

"What's unique about this team, is honestly I don't even worry when we turn the line-up over," White said. "In past years, I'd be processing where we were going to be two or three innings ahead. This group, it just does not matter who leads off."

While the Solon players have given their coach that peace of mind, he's returned the favor for the team's pitcher.

"He's helped me a lot. He's made me more positive," Ira said. "I used to get down on myself. But to tell myself 'I'm good,' it helps a lot."

The Lady Spartans were state runner-ups last season. They hope they've changed enough to get over that hump.

"We worked a lot harder this year," Herdliska said. "I think we deserve it more.

"We do a lot of things different. We tell (White) to switch it up. Obviously it's been working."

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