Wolves made strides throughout winless campaign

2A Regional Softball: ACGC 11, IKM-Manning 0 (5)

 GUTHRIE CENTER (July 6) -- A frustrating softball season came to a close for IKM-Manning last Tuesday as the Wolves lost to ACGC 11-0 in a Class 2A regional first round game.
 The host Chargers scored six runs in the fourth and won by the 10-run rule in five, improving to 16-13 overall. ACGC was defeated by seventh-ranked Earlham 4-1 in Thursday night’s Region 3 quarterfinals.
 The Wolves, whose only hit came from freshman Brooke Booth in the top of the fifth, finished 0-21 but showed improvement and growth throughout the season with a roster consisting largely of eighth graders and freshmen.
 “We knew it was going to be a season that was going to have some rough spots,” said IKM-M head coach Joy Gross. “We had a couple of opportunities to get a W out there and just couldn’t put that final piece together to get it.”
 Gross added that her team was coachable as well as a very cohesive group.
 “I’ve told people many times when you come to our games... if you looked at both dugouts you wouldn’t know that we were the team that hadn’t won,” she said. “Our kids are full of enthusiasm, they support each other, they cheer each other on and they do that from the first pitch to the last out. As a coach, you can’t hope for any more than that.
 “I’m proud to be their coach. I’m proud to be the coach of this program. It was rough, but we’re certainly not going to stay where we’re at. You get better or you get worse, and these kids have gotten better all season long and I just appreciate all the effort that they gave.”
 In addition to Booth’s late single, Wolves’ pinch-hitter Olivia Robinson drew a walk while Emma Branning and Jessica Christensen were both hit-by-pitch during the third inning.
 ACGC freshman Emerson Van Meter pitched four hitless innings for the win with four strikeouts. At the plate, Madalyn Kelsey, Kylie Young and Reagan Carney had two hits each, including four for extra bases.
 The Chargers finished the game with four doubles and two triples, and although some of those balls were hit hard to the gaps, others might have been singles or caught by IKM-Manning defenders with a just a little more seasoning.
 Coach Gross is confident that those days are ahead.
 “They’re going to be a great team. They just need to grow into the things that we’re asking them to do,” she said.
 “The game is going to slow down for them. Right now, everything is just happening so fast to them, and the more reps and the more experiences that they get, the game will just naturally slow down so much more. They’ll be in the right spots and they won’t even know why they’re in the right spots. They’ll just be there.”
 Freshman Ella Richards (0-14) allowed 11 hits in four innings pitched for IKM-M, walking three and striking out one. Only five of ACGC’s 11 runs were earned.
 The Chargers’ two-run second inning included a high fly ball by Kelsey that narrowly eluded the left fielder’s glove for a double, then a short fly-ball triple by Young that landed between two defenders.
 A dropped third strike set the stage for a three-run third that featured Jorga Hoover’s RBI triple and Young’s RBI double.
 ACGC’s six-run fourth included an Olivia Van Meter double, two bunt singles, a two-run single by Kelsey and three Wolves’ errors.
 Gross described all of her players as self-responsible, accountable and great future adults, noting that “every single kid” showed up for 6:00 a.m. practices at 5:45 “and they were stoked to be there.”
 She added that circumstances simply led to many kids being put in positions they weren’t yet ready for this summer.
 “(On) many many nights (we had) at least four eighth graders starting and three freshmen,” Gross said. “But they played hard, they improved a tremendous amount and I’m looking forward to getting started with them again for next year.
 “I think they have the luxury over a lot of kids in the eighth grade class that didn’t get any varsity experience. They were coached hard. I didn’t play soft on them. I kept the bar high all season long because that’s where I believe that they’re going to be.”
Senior duo:
 The Wolves will lose only two seniors off this year’s roster in Zoey Melton and Erin Fineran.
 Melton led the team with a .351 batting average and has been a five-year contributor at the varsity level, playing mostly catcher. She spent more games at shortstop this summer - at her own request - and also pitched a few innings as needed.
 “She’s my natural catcher, but when we talked she’s like, ‘I think I can make more plays at shortstop and be more influential out there,’” Gross said. “We gave her the ball a couple times on the mound and she did the best she could there when we had some sore arms... She would do absolutely anything I asked her to do.
 “Zoey has been an asset to this program since she’s been an eighth grader... I’m just looking forward to what life has to hold for her. Great human being, and I love to death that I had an opportunity to get to coach her.”
 Fineran played more sparingly at the varsity level - she had 21 at-bats this year - but was in the lineup Tuesday as the designated player and was always a good teammate.
 “She was the most supportive person in the dugout,” Gross said. She was always encouraging the younger kids - the kids that were doing the job that she wanted to do. For five years, she’s done a lot of the grunt work and you’ve got to appreciate a kid like that that will stay with the program knowing that they’re probably not going to play very much. Erin is going to go into nursing and is going to be a tremendous asset.”

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