Rasmussen single caps winning Spartan rally

Exira-EHK overcomes late 3-0 deficit to beat Woodbine in Region 2 thriller, setting up rematch at Fonda

 KIMBALLTON (July 9) -- Trailing 3-0 and down to its last four outs, the Exira-Elk Horn-Kimballton softball team needed a break.
 The Spartans caught one in the form of a dropped fly ball and never looked back, scoring two runs in the sixth and two in the seventh to rally past Woodbine 4-3 in Friday’s Class 1A regional semifinal at Kimballton.
 Veteran juniors Alisa Partridge, Macy Emgarten and Mollie Rasmussen all delivered clutch singles in the bottom of the seventh, capped by Rasmussen’s walk-off line drive hit to right-center field that plated courtesy runner Anna Potts with the dramatic winning run.
 “It felt really good. I knew I had to do that or else it would have (haunted) me for the rest of my life,” said Rasmussen. “I was excited. I was like, ‘This is my time to go, right now.’”
 Rasmussen, who was 0-for-3 prior to her last at-bat, jumped all over the first pitch she saw from Tiger eighth-grader Charlie Pryor.
 “I just knew I needed it right down the middle and I line-drived it,” she said.
 Exira-EHK, which had lost to Woodbine 6-4 just eight days earlier, improved to 22-6 and punched its ticket to Monday night’s 7:00 p.m. Region 2 final at top-ranked Newell-Fonda (34-4). The Spartans also played the Mustangs in a regional final last year at Fonda and lost 10-0.
 “They’re perennial state qualifiers for a reason, but there’s a reason why we play those regional final games and you never know what’s going to happen,” said E-EHK head coach Andy Nulle. “You’ve just got to show up and do your best and that’s all you can ask for. We’ve seen them a lot. They’ve seen us a lot. We’ll see. But we’ll come ready for them.”
 Friday’s rubber match between the Spartans and Tigers featured two quality pitchers in Emgarten and Pryor, neither of whom walked a batter.
 Emgarten (20-4) tossed a five-hitter, allowed three runs and struck out five. She retired the first seven and the last 10 batters of the game.
 Pryor (18-5) worked out of trouble much of the way as Exira-EHK stranded eight base runners. She allowed nine hits and four runs (two earned) in six and two-thirds innings, striking out six.
 The Spartans finally broke through late with five hits in their last 10 at-bats.
 “I was a little nervous - not gonna lie - but (we) were hitting the ball all game long. We were just hitting to people. We left a ton of people on,” Nulle said. “We finally started executing at the end and started stringing some together, and it worked out for us.”
 Woodbine (22-6) did all of its damage in the third and fourth, which is also the only innings it had any base runners.
 Avery Moores, the Tigers’ number eight batter, got things going with a double to right field in the third. With two out, Jamie Plowman and Grace Moores both hit ground ball RBI singles just to the right of second base to put Woodbine up 2-0.
 One inning later, Nicole Hoefer made a daring dash to second on a two-out bloop double to left and scored on Sierra Lantz’s single up the middle to make it 3-0.
 That was it for the Tigers as Emgarten set down the next 10 batters in impressive fashion.
 “I knew that if we didn’t want our season to be over we had to get going, so I was just throwing as hard as I could to get them out,” said Emgarten. “They had some nice hits, but my defense was there to back me up.”
 Emgarten also ignited the Spartans’ sixth-inning rally with a single, but Potts (her runner) was still on second with two out when Hannah Nelson hit a high fly ball down the right field line. The Tiger outfielder ran a long way but was under the ball when she dropped it for an error that allowed Potts to score.
 Nulle then called on freshman Mariah Traever as a pinch-hitter. Traever responded in a big spot with an RBI single to center, cutting the gap to 3-2.
 “I told my girls to stay ready. They never know when I’m going to call on them and they’ve just got to step up when they are,” said Nulle. “Mariah was one that I was hitting earlier in the season; [she] had a lull in the middle and I (said), ‘Stay ready.’ She stepped up and that was huge tonight. I’m very proud of her for doing that.”
 With the deficit now more managable at one run, three stalwarts of the Spartan program came through in the seventh.
 Partridge, who had been 0-for-2, knocked a one-out single over shortstop and Nulle elected to have Quinn Grubbs bunt her into scoring position on a sacrifice. With the pressure squarely on Emgarten, she drilled an opposite-field single past third and Partridge scored easily to tie the game as Emgarten reached second on the throw home.
 One pitch later, Rasmussen delivered her clutch hit to end the game.
 “They had seen the ball pretty good,” Nulle said. “Fourth at-bat - my top players are good enough that they’re going to find a way on eventually and they did. They just stayed the course. I told them today was going to be huge. You’ve got to flush things really quick... And I thought they were mentally strong tonight and they knew that eventually something would go through for them.”
 Emgarten finished 2-for-4 at the plate and seven other Spartans had one hit, including Shay Burmeister’s third-inning double. Makenzie Riley and Nelson hit back-to-back singles in the fourth and Gemini Goodwin had a leadoff single in the fifth.
 All seven of Friday’s runs scored with two out.
 Another big item was defense as Exira-EHK did not commit a single error.
 “I thought defensively we played a really solid game. We really backed up Macy,” Nulle said. “They had hits, but with a good-hitting team that’s going to happen.”
 Nulle was also proud of the way Emgarten finished strong in the circle.
 “I think she just kind of buckled down and decided that she was going to control the game; that she was tired of watching balls go by her that she couldn’t do anything about,” Nulle said. “She settled in and found her groove a little bit and just let her defense help her and she was taking charge out there as well.”
 Rasmussen noted that Traever’s pinch-hit RBI single was the “clutch” hit that really got the team going.
 “That really started the rally,” she said. “It opened our eyes and we were like, ‘OK, we’ve got to go now or else it’s over.’”
 Rasmussen called Monday’s showdown at Newell-Fonda a “good opportunity because they’re a really good team and it will just make us better.”
 Emgarten believes the team will enter the regional final with a strong attitude after being derailed by a poor start in last year’s game at Fonda.
 “We’re in that game for a reason,” she said, “and we can compete with them.”

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