Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – Patience and positive reinforcement are two things West High softball coach Justin Lutjen hasn’t had to rely on much until this season.
Lutjen had the luxury of coaching teams that were experienced and led by star players during his first three seasons at West.
This season is different, though, as evidenced by West’s record, which is 2-6 after splitting a doubleheader with Cedar Rapids Prairie on Thursday at West.
The Women of Troy won the first game 1-0 despite only getting one hit, but Prairie rebounded to win the second game 11-7 behind an offense that pounded 18 hits.
West committed three errors in the second game, but it was a play that didn’t result in an error that really seem to bother Lutjen.
He stormed out of the dugout and ordered all of his players in the field to gather at the mound after a pop up was allowed to drop in foul territory near first base. Lutjen then delivered a stern message and kept talking to his players until the home plate umpire finally broke up the meeting.
“When you start out 0-5, we’ve had those issues all year,” Lutjen said. “We’re trying to clean it up. We’re just trying to get better. And that’s been hurting us for most of the year is just defensive plays that we’re not making that need to get made if we’re going to win games.”
West was solid on defense in the first game, committing no errors and making the one unearned run that it scored in the first inning stand up.
Freshman Brylee Klosterman scored the only run in the first game after reaching base on a double in the bottom of the first. She then scored after Prairie left fielder Lauren Kuch dropped a fly ball that was hit by Skylar Ryan.
The Hawks threatened to score a few times in the first game, but West pitcher Kylie Heisdorffer managed to quell each rally. The junior scattered six hits and allowed just two walks while going the distance.
“The defense was really solid and we pushed hard,” Heisdorffer said. “Our bats weren’t on in that game, but we still battled.”
Prairie had a runner on second base when Heisdorffer got Kuch to fly out to left field to end the first game.
“It was a little stressful with a runner on second,” Heisdorffer said. “But I know I have good defense behind me and was confident we’d get the outs.”
Lutjen praised his winning pitcher for overcoming a difficult situation with West only getting one hit off Prairie starter Natalie Halvorson, who also had nine strikeouts.
“Kylie battled,” Lutjen said. “She did a great job. She kept it in on the hands and I think that made it difficult for them. She gave us an opportunity with one hit. You don’t usually win a lot of games with one hit. So she was great the first game.”
West scored three runs in the bottom of the first inning in the second game, but the Hawks answered with five runs in the second. Prairie expanded the lead to 10-3 before West rallied for four runs in the sixth.
Prairie scored another run in the seventh to help secure the split.
“There is not one person to be blame,” Lutjen said of his team’s current woes. “Collectively, we’ve just got to keep getting better.”
Lutjen met with his players for several minutes in left field after the doubleheader. His roster has changed since last season, but the goals for the team haven’t changed.
“Obviously, we have a higher learning curve this year with a lot of young kids and new players,” Lutjen said. “So it’s starting at a different point than we have in the past. But our goals are still the same. This is still Iowa City West softball and I know the kids that are playing varsity this year, they know what the goals are.
“It’s just getting them up to speed to where we want to be. We don’t have any doubt that we’ll get there. We just have to keep plugging away and keep coming to practice and understanding what we need to get better at and then focus on that.”
The good news is there still is plenty of time to get better with it only being early June.
“Yeah, that’s true,” Lutjen said. “But the next thing you know it’ll be July. We’ll be alright. The kids work hard. They’re allowing us to coach them and they’re willing to learn. They ask questions and we told them, that’s what they need to do. So we’ll be alright. We’ll be alright.”
CR Prairie 000 000 0 – 0 6 1
West High 100 000 x – 1 1 0
Natalie Halvorson and Hunter Dietrich; Kylie Heisdorffer and Kaitlyn Fangmann.
2B – ICW: Brylee Klosterman
CR Prairie 050 031 1 – 11 18 4
West High 300 004 0 – 7 11 3
Nicole Sullivan, Lindsay Clausen (6), Natalie Halvorson and Hunter Dietrich
2B – ICW: Skylar Ryan, Kaitlyn Fangmann, Cynthia Hull
HR – CRP: Haley McFarlane, Lauren Kuch