A silent confidence allowed the 2001 Clarinda Cardinals to put together the most successful softball season in school history.
Following a thrilling 2-1 win over Shenandoah in the regional finals, the Cardinals were scheduled to make their first ever appearance at the state softball tournament in Fort Dodge against Grinnell. Clarinda took a record of 28-18 into the tournament.
“Playing well against Grinnell is all we care about right now,” Clarinda Coach Denny Stanton said prior to the opening round game of the state tournament.
As the spread of the COVID-19 virus has resulted in the cancelation of spring sports in Iowa, we will continue to look back at some of the greatest games and athletic achievements from Clarinda High School and South Page High School. Send your suggestions by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include CHS Greatest Game in the subject line and provide the year as part of the email so we can search our archives to find the story.
Please enjoy this account of the performance by Clarinda qualifying for the 2001 state softball tournament.
Last season, Clarinda advanced to the regional semifinals before suffering a heartbreaking defeat on their own field, 7-6, to Dallas Center Grimes. But, with the loss of four seniors at key positions on the field, the Cardinals appeared to be looking at a rebuilding year this season.
However, seniors Kinsey Barlow, Amber Gerdts and Emily Wheatley agreed the loss in regional semifinals provided some valuable tournament experience for the remaining Cardinals.
As the Cardinals looked to fill the holes left by the graduation of the four seniors from last year, Clarinda got off to a 5-10 start on the season.
However, since that rough start, the Cardinals have went an impressive 23-8 on their march to state.
“We got some things figured out and were able to win seven straight games. We beat some very good teams during that run, including Webster City which also made it to the state tournament,” Stanton said.
While that seven game winning streak got the ball rolling for the Cardinals, the true turning point of the season may have been a doubleheader sweep Clarinda suffered at the hands of Harlan.
Although the Cardinals lost both games of the twin bill, the two teams played a total of 24 innings and only one run separated the squads in each contest.
“The big night for us was against Harlan. We played 24 innings and even though we lost both games we did not feel like losers. That night showed us we had the pitching and the ability to play tough defense for 24 innings, and that we could stay with one of the best teams around,” Stanton explained.
The three Cardinals seniors agreed the doubleheader marathon against Harlan gave the team a great deal of confidence with the tournament schedule just ahead.
“During the Harlan games, finally we realized everything was clicking. We thought right there that maybe this season was going to go somewhere,” Wheatley said.
Clarinda started its tournament march by defeating Glenwood 5-1 in the first round of districts.
“The only thing I focused on at first was Glenwood. That’s what we all tried to focus on. We said we’re going to do this one game at a time,” Wheatley said.
In the district finals the Cardinals faced Shenandoah with the knowledge that both teams would advance to the regional tournament.
Shea Carpenter was firing a perfect game against the Fillies for four innings before Shenandoah came up with a key five run fifth inning. The Fillies went on to claim the district championship with a 7-1 victory.
However, the Cardinals responded in the regional tournament by posting wins over Winterset and Red Oak to set up a rematch with Shenandoah in the regional finals.
“We went to Winterset and they put it to us early. But, then here came our bats. We were fired up to be playing Red Oak in the semifinals because we’ve done well against them in the past. That gave us a lot of confidence that we could win that game,” Stanton explained.
Prior to the start of the regional final with Shenandoah, the three seniors felt the Cardinal squad was quietly confident they could knock off the Fillies.
“I knew that we had to face Shenandoah, and since it was a time that we were either in or out, that we were going to beat them,” Barlow explained.
“I wanted to play Shenandoah again because I wanted to knock them off. In the district game, we all knew it didn’t matter. The runner-up and the district champ goes on, so we didn’t come in as hard as we did for this one. In this game it was do or die, only one team goes on after this,” Wheatley agreed. “There was a quiet confidence that if we played our game we could do it.”
Although the regional final was played at Shenandoah, Clarinda came up with its first victory of the night by winning the coin flip to be designated home team for the game.
“Winning that coin flip was gigantic. It’s a great advantage to be able to dictate who is going to win or lose with your last at bat,” Stanton explained.
“In the back of my mind I always think home team is a huge advantage. I think it’s very big and it definitely was in this game. Even if they get up, you always have a chance to come back. We always get to bat last,” Wheatley agreed.
Clarinda held the Fillies scoreless in the first inning of the game and then took a 1-0 lead when Michan Long scored on wild pitch with two outs in the bottom of the first inning to give Clarinda an early 1-0 advantage.
Although Shenandoah answered with a run in the top of the second inning, scoring the first run of the night allowed the Cardinals to dictate the tone of the game early.
“Michan made a nice break home when the ball got away. She’s an aggressive base runner. Shea is a tough pitcher and getting her a run or two early is a good way to set the tone,” Stanton said.
“That brought us up some more and gave us more confidence,” Barlow said.
Shenandoah threatened to take the lead in the top of the third inning as the Fillies loaded the bases with no outs. However, Carpenter induced a soft liner to second, a force at home and a force at third as the Cardinals got out of the inning with the score still tied 1-1.
“We’ve done that I don’t know how many times this year. All but one time when we’ve loaded the bases, we got out of the mess,” Stanton said.
“We always seem to get ourselves in those difficult positions where the bases are loaded and no outs. But, we always seem to come together. I think we all believe in each other and we don’t get scared because we believe everyone out there can do it,” Gerdts added.
The score remained tied as the game moved to the bottom of the seventh inning. Clarinda sent the bottom one-third of the order to the plate. Shenandoah quickly retired for the first two batters before Alissa Reed worked a walk.
“We’ve done a lot this year with the bottom three people in our batting order. Reed has been one of our best hitters all year in finding a way to get on base,” Stanton said.
This brought Gerdts to the plate with the winning run on base. Gerdts promptly lined a double to the right field gap as Reed raced toward the plate with the potential winning run.
“She threw me a meatball first pitch. It was my pitch. Any other pitch I probably would have grounded out or popped up, but she threw me my pitch,” Gerdts said.
“I was sending her no matter what. I wanted them to have to make the throw and make the perfect play. Alissa made a good turn around third and made a nice slide to avoid the catcher and get by her with the winning run,” Stanton said.
As Reed drug her left hand across the plate, the Cardinals had a 2-1 win and confirmed their reservations in the state tournament with the seven other best teams in Class 2A.
“As soon as the ball left the bat I knew we had the game,” Barlow said.
“I rounded second and watched them throw the ball in to the catcher and I saw it hit her glove and bounce on the ground as Reed slapped the plate. It was amazing,” Gerdts explained.
“I couldn’t believe it. Everybody was jumping up and down and I just stood there. I couldn’t even believe we were going to go to Fort Dodge. It’s crazy, I couldn’t even comprehend it at first,” Wheatley agreed.
Stanton was also very proud of the way his team battled throughout the year to earn such an honor.
“I know Shenandoah had a good season, but we did what it took to be on top at the end,” Stanton said. “These girls deserve to be going on to the state tournament.”
Each year Stanton attends the state softball tournament and imagined what it would be like to have his team playing in the tournament field. Now, that wish has become a reality.
“It’s very difficult to get to this tournament. Getting the chance to take my team up there will be really, really sharp. It’s what you think about when you’re up there watching,” Stanton explained.
Throughout their tournament run, the Cardinals have received overwhelming support from their family, friends, fans and the Clarinda community as a whole.
In fact, Clarinda City Council Member Bill McComb even formally recognized the accomplishments of the Cardinals during a council meeting on July 23.
“It’s in deed an honor for them represent the school and the city of Clarinda, and be one of eight teams in the whole state of Iowa. That’s a select group, so I congratulate them,” McComb said.
Stanton and the three seniors all agreed that the great show of support from the community and their fans has been greatly appreciated.
“We would like to thank everyone for their support,” Stanton concluded.