Wolves knock off Eagles, return to WIC Semifinals

 UNDERWOOD (June 25) -- It’s not an official Western Iowa Conference Softball Tournament unless IKM-Manning is playing on Thursday.
 Despite a season with more downs than ups so far, the seventh-seeded Wolves rose to the occasion for Tuesday’s WIC quarterfinal game at No. 2 seeded Underwood, starting fast with a three-run first inning, keeping momentum through a 30-minute lightning delay and holding off a late Eagles’ rally to win 7-6.
 IKM-Manning advanced to Thursday’s semifinal and championship rounds at Logan. Top-seeded Treynor (20-1) faced fifth-seeded Logan-Magnolia (10-11) at 5:00 p.m., followed by the Wolves (7-14) vs. third-seeded Riverside (15-8) and then the title game.
 Since joining the WIC in 2014, IKM-M has played in the conference tournament championship game five straight years and won titles in 2014 and 2017. Just making it back to the semis this year was considered a long shot by those outside the program, but the Wolves weren’t buying that thought process.
 “If you couldn’t tell (our girls) wanted to play on Thursday, you weren’t watching,” said IKM-M head coach Joy Gross. “Great win for us. We’ve been up and down. This is kind of an up, so we need to ride that high wave as long as we can. It’s the right time of the year to have big wins."
 The Wolves lost to Underwood (14-8) by scores of 7-2 and 9-2 in the regular season but it was tough to tell that on Tuesday. IKM-M hit the ball hard for most of the night against Eagle ace pitcher Ella Pierce, racking up 12 hits while striking out just four times.
 The tone was set right away in the first when Lexi Branning led off the game with a single, pitcher Bianca Cadwell hit a one-out RBI double and new cleanup hitter Grace Youngren hammered a no-doubter of a two-run homer well over the fence in right-center field.
 The Wolves still led 3-1 in the fourth when a one-out error opened the door to a two-run inning. A single by Sammy Halbur set the table for Emily Kerkhoff’s RBI double off the fence, at which point the game was halted for 30 minutes due to visible lightning well off to the southeast. When play resumed, Jessica Christensen’s single drove in Halbur to make it 5-1. IKM-M added two key insurance runs late.
 Youngren, Halbur, Kerkhoff and Christensen all went 2-for-4 on the night with Youngren and Kerkhoff both driving in a pair.
 Underwood, which had at least one hit in every inning (11 total), was led by pitcher Ella Pierce’s two singles and three RBI. Macy Vanfossan went 3-for-4 with a double.

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