Cougar comeback halts Union in playoffs

TELEGRAPH PHOTO BY DARVIN GRAHAM - Jocelyn Gates fires to first base during the Knight’s quarterfinal game in Sumner. Gates, along with Allie Driscol and Sarah Roberts will be key returners for the Knights next year.

The Union Knights came into their Class 3A opening round playoff game as an underdog, but hoped an earlier win against their opponent, the 9-7 Sumner-Fredericksburg Cougars, would give them the edge they needed for an upset.

“We were excited about having Sumner as our first draw,” admitted Union Head Coach Laurie Driscol. “We knew we could beat them but also knew it was going to be a tough. It was a tough win in the regular season and it was a tough game again on Wednesday. They hit the ball very well and we knew we’d have to play well to beat them and we just came up short.”

The upset bid started well enough with Union jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning. But the Cougars would bounce right back and even the score by the bottom of the third.

The game remained close until the bottom of the sixth inning when Sumner-Fredericksburg exploded for five runs. The Knights offense unfortunately could not find it’s footing after the first inning and were held scoreless the rest of the way.

Cougars senior Kaylyn Hoth got the win for Cougars despite striking out zero Union batters. On the other side, Union senior Natalie Tecklenburg took the loss after pitching the final three and two-thirds innings. Junior Sarah Roberts started in the circle for the Knights but exited in the third inning after the Cougars evened the score.

TELEGRAPH PHOTO BY DARVIN GRAHAM - Union’s Sarah Roberts takes a moment to smile during the Knights playoff game on July 15.

At the plate the Knights turned in their second best hitting performance of the season, with seven batters recording a hit. Their 10 team hits bested the Cougars who managed their nine runs with only seven total hits. The Cougars out-slugged the Knights however, with three extra base hits compared to Union’s one.

Roberts, Jocelyn Gates, and Ava Mills each had two hits with Roberts getting the only extra base hit and Gates leading the team with two stolen bases. Tecklenburg and Allie Driscol each had a hit and scored one run while Dena Robb and Aleah Reisinger each hit singles.

Sumner-Fredericksburg advanced to the Region 7 Semifinal game with a 9-3 defeat of Union. The Cougars were eliminated last Friday after taking a 2-0 loss to the 13-1 Anamosa Blue Raiders.

The Knights will say goodbye to two graduating seniors in Natalie Tecklenburg and Jadelyn Elliott who were constant contributors in the Union lineup this season.

Coach Driscol praised her two seniors saying, “Both of these girls put in good work for us this year. It was Natalie’s fifth year as a starter and she truly defined the title of utility player, going out as an infielder and as a pitcher. Jadelyn anchored right field this year and was pretty steady at the plate.”

Union senior softball players Jadelyn Elliott (left) and Natalie Tecklenburg (right)

Tecklenburg plans to continue her softball career next year at Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids. She signed her intent to play with the Mustangs this past March.

Reflecting back on what was an entirely abnormal season for high school teams in Iowa, Coach Driscol expressed gratitude and optimism about the way her players handled the challenges.

“We had a great group of girls this year. Sometimes all the elements around playing ball in the summer can make things challenging for kids to stay engaged. But this year we just felt fortunate to get the uniforms out and be able to play as Union Knights. The kids were excited to be able to play and we as coaches always looked forward to getting to the field and getting to where the kids are each day.”

The Knights look to return three of their top four hitters in rising juniors Allie Driscol and Sarah Roberts along with rising sophomore Jocelyn Gates. Roberts was also the go-to arm for Union this season, starting each of the Knights 14 games and leading the team with 30 strikeouts.

The Knights huddle with their head coach Laurie Driscol during a regular season game. Photo provided.