Redhawks rally but Comets can’t be quelled

Team ends season 7-12, Merchant named Co-Coach of the Year

North Tama’s Violet Seda eludes the tag from BCLUW catcher Cassie Nason as she slides safely across home plate in the fifth inning of last Friday’s Class 1A Region 6 first-round game in Conrad. PHOTO BY JAKE RYDER

CONRAD — BCLUW softball was able to hold off a late rally from North Tama to advance in the Class 1A Region 6 bracket with a 12-10 victory at Dave Lee Field last Friday night (June 30).

The Redhawks scored four runs with two outs and had the bases loaded but BCLUW pitcher Klayre Gallentine was able to get a hard groundout to the Comets’ lone senior, Cameron Bergman, who tagged the first-base bag for the final out.

“I just had to throw strikes,” Gallentine said. “And our team could play the defense we needed behind me. Cameron’s our senior and she’s one of our biggest team leaders, so we had full confidence in her.”

Gallentine got a big cushion of run support with five BCLUW runs in the fifth inning, including RBIs for Cassie Nason, Raegan Crawford and Grace Farnsworth.

“We only had three hits off [North Tama starter Sydnee Bliss] last time, so our focus was to really get out there and jump on her,” BCLUW head coach Megan Yantis said. “And I felt like we did that from the very first inning.”

Coach Madonna Merchant. TAMA-GRUNDY FILE PHOTO

North Tama struck back with a five-run second inning to take a 5-2 lead that included a three-RBI hit from Gabriella Seda that was aided by a Comet error.

“When we made [Gallentine] throw a little more, we had more success that way,” North Tama coach Madonna Merchant said.

Nason and Crawford answered with their first RBIs of the night in the bottom of the second, but Yantis said it still felt like the Comets had left their foot off the gas.

Morgan Bergman pressed the accelerator back down with her second home run of the season in the fourth inning, a two-run shot that put the Comets up 7-5.

“We all stood up, we knew it was gone,” Gallentine said of watching Bergman’s roundtripper. “That momentum carried over to the rest of our hitters and carried on through the rest of the game.”

Down to their final out, the Redhawks did not relent.

Lydia Taylor reached on an infield error and Faith Dvorak and Kinsley Even delivered back-to-back hits. Bliss helped herself with a bases-loaded hit by pitch and the Redhawks added consecutive bases-loaded walks. Seda’s fourth RBI of the night followed and suddenly North Tama was one swing away from at least tying the game.

While that didn’t quite pan out for the Redhawks, first-year head coach Merchant was pleased to see the fight.

“We’re working very hard on changing the culture around Redhawk softball,” Merchant said. “We’re playing with more pride, we’re playing with more fight, more consistency, and they know that they can be in games and start to turn the corner and win games, which is something that has not happened in a long, long time with this program.”

North Tama will have everyone back next season, too.

“Our numbers were great this year,” Merchant said. “I’m proud of them and appreciate all the work they put in. We’ve got something established now, and when we come back next year, we’re just going to keep working on it.”

Program progress

Following the regional playoff, Merchant was named Co-Coach of the Year for the Iowa Star-South Conference alongside Colo-NESCO’s Candance Sutton – a testament to just how far the team has come in a single season under Merchant.

“Redhawk softball had won two games in the prior four seasons,” Merchant told the Telegraph. “We won seven games [this season] while two more were lost by just one run. It is a very tough conference for softball that we play in.”

While the 2022-23 season has been a work in progress, Merchant conceded, it is one that will reap further benefits down the line.

“We have established expectations for the future now. We have together worked on the team culture, which has improved tremendously. … With the way the season is so intense, we had to do a lot of hard learning – like baserunning on the fly. Sometimes it worked and other times we learned from it. Our batting is improving, but it is crucial that our confidence in the box continues to grow for our team to step up competitively [next season].”

Merchant said the growth of the program in just one season has been phenomenal and both her and assistant coach Kami Roth are proud to have been a part of bringing Redhawk softball back to a competitive level.

“Together we do have Redhawk softball going in the right direction. With dedicated off-season work I believe we can raise our goals for next season to even a higher level of competitiveness.”

“Change doesn’t happen in one season, and it will take all of us – players and their parents – working together to have the program continue to rise up in the direction we all want. There is excitement around the program again, and that is just awesome!”

Community support for the program has also been part of the team’s success the last few months, Merchant added.

“There are really good people involved with the youth programs including Channing Halstead, Sara Forrestor, Mercedes Fink, Todd and Amy Harmsen, and Seth Seda who all worked hard with the middle school girls who finished over .500 on the season this year.”

Merchant rounded out her thoughts with words of praise for Coach Roth and for Seth Seda who cares for the grounds out at the Traer Athletic Complex.

“I have a great assistant coach in Kami Roth – she knows what she’s doing and can handle the brunt of my competitiveness. … [And] Seth Seda is the best groundskeeper any coach could ask for and deserves a public thank you for all his hard work on those hot days preparing the field.”

While the Redhawks impressive rally last Friday night at regionals may not have brought the team the exact results they were hoping for — making it to round two this season — the scrappiness and competitive edge they displayed on the diamond will be necessary to keep the program on an upward bound come spring 2024.

“The attitude about the program and within the program has changed for the better,” Merchant said. “And everyone knows that attitude is everything.”