Even before taking the field in Fort Dodge, the Central Springs softball team made history. They became just the 12th school to ever qualify at least seven years in a row for the tournament that has been held in Fort Dodge for 51 years. Their seven straight is also the longest active streak in the state for any class.
The week looked promising after the #3 Panthers announced themselves with an 11-0 rout of #6 Underwood, reaching the semifinals for only the second time during the streak. They opened the 2018 tournament with a win over Logan-Magnolia, 4-0.
In this year’s quarterfinal win over Underwood, coach Belinda Nelson’s team racked up 11-hits, including two from juniors Madisyn Kelley and Kaylea Fessler and sophomore Aurora Stepleton. Sophomore pitcher Cooper Klaahsen pitched a gem, holding Underwood to just two hits, two walks, and she struck out eight on the way to win in five innings.
The Panthers’ win set up for a date with #2 North Linn yesterday in the state semifinals, one win away from the state championship game. In eight appearances in school history – all between 2011 and 2021 – Central Springs has never appeared in the title game.
Fighting till the very end, they came up three runs short of the newest softball powerhouse, North Linn.
The Lynx first appeared in Fort Dodge in 2019, winning the title. They’ve now made three straight appearances and have played in the championship game all three years. After winning the title in 2019, they lost to Ogden last year.
Central Springs didn’t go quietly. After falling behind early, 3-0, the Panthers got back to within one with a two-run homer by Kelley. They also battled back later in the game when North Linn again took a three-run lead, and again Kelley went deep with a two-run shot. Though North Linn would seal the deal with three more additional runs in the bottom of the sixth. Senior Emme Dietrich tried to spark another Central Springs rally in the seventh with a solo home run of her own, but the Lynx were able to find the three outs they needed to close the door.
That’s Central Springs junior Kaylea Fessler. She was so thankful for the continued community support the team has received.
Nelson, who recorded her 450th win this year, has won 445 times at Central Springs in 20 years. Nelson says it will be sad to say goodbye to the seniors when they play their final game at 6:00 PM today in the third-place game against #1 Wilton. But also knows once the final goodbyes are said, it’s time to get back to work.
Central Spring will take the state’s longest tournament appearance streak into 2022 and will have a chance to become just the fifth school in history to qualify eight years in a row.
Zarren Egesdal is the sports director for Coloff Media radio stations KIOW and KHAM. He can be reached daily at firstname.lastname@example.org or 641-585-1073. Do you have a story idea? Feel free to contact him. Zarren is an award-winning journalist providing coverage to all area schools. Throughout the year, you will hear Zarren calling games as the ‘voice of the Forest City Indians’ on KIOW (107.3), the Indians’ flagship station.