Your Prep Sports
NORTH LIBERTY – Even with injuries to key players hampering Liberty High all season the Lightning still battled to 24 wins, a No. 11 ranking in Class 5A and a number two seed in the postseason.
The injuries and an inspired Cedar Rapids Jefferson squad finally proved too much for Liberty High to overcome.
Cedar Rapids Jefferson scored seven runs in the first three innings on its way to a 9-2 win over 5A No. 11 Liberty High in a Region 6 semifinal on Saturday in North Liberty.
“Mike (Kuba) does a great job with that team, he is a class act and their girls hit the ball,” Liberty High coach Jeff Kelley said. “What it really boiled down to for us is we couldn’t overcome all the injuries we had this year.”
The win sends Cedar Rapids Jefferson (26-14) to the Region 5 title game where it will face defending 5A state champion Cedar Rapids Kennedy (27-9) on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Cedar Rapids.
Liberty High, which played large chunks of the season without all-state pitcher Kara Maiers and standout catcher Mischa Reiners and had a host of other contributors in and out of the lineup with injuries all season, closed the season 24-16.
“We had more than our fair share of injuries but I was really proud of our kids because I think any other team would have been lucky to finish .500,” Kelley said. “We won 24 games taking all of that into consideration, our young kids stepped up and we had our ups and downs but I was really proud of our girls.”
Liberty High actually got good news on the injury front on Friday as Maiers was cleared to return from an injury that had sidelined the senior pitcher for nearly a month.
In her first action since June 15 Maiers walked four and allowed a single in 2/3 of an inning as Cedar Rapids Jefferson took an early 2-0 lead.
“Kara didn’t get cleared to pitch until last night and she deserved a chance,” Kelley said. “Regardless of what happened she had earned that chance.”
Kelsey Palmer led off the game with a single back up the box and following a sacrifice bunt Taylor Robinson and Skyler Phelps followed with walks before Maddie Denlinger drew a bases loaded walk on a 3-2 count.
Maiers got Calley Gralund swinging for the second out but Allie Barlow also coaxed a walk on a 3-2 pitch to make it 2-0 J-Hawks.
“We had a strong feeling that Maiers was going to pitch tonight and our game plan was to work good at bats against her and make her pitch,” Cedar Rapids Jefferson coach Mike Kuba said. “She hadn’t pitched in a while so we just wanted to keep her off rhythm and attack and score runs as early as we could.”
Liberty High got a run back in the first when Haley Schroeder drew a two-out walk and scored on a Kennedy Daugherty RBI single to right field.
Jefferson got a run in the second and then broke the game open with a four-run fourth in which the J-Hawks had six hits while batting around.
“Our goal coming into the postseason is to win or tie every inning, that is our focus,” Kuba said. “I thought the girls did a good job of that tonight.”
That was more than enough for Jefferson starter Shandi Rulli who didn’t allow a run over the final four innings.
The senior left-hander struck out three and walked four while limiting the Lightning to five hits.
Daugherty went 2-for-4 with two RBI and Schroeder scored twice for the Lightning.
“The defensive gods were certainly with us tonight and there have been games where they haven’t been,” Kuba said. “The girls did a nice job of rising to the occasion. We got good pitching, we played good defense and had offense to really support that pitching tonight.
CR Jefferson 214 100 1 – 9 12 1
Liberty High 101 000 0 – 2 5 1
W – Shandi Rulli L – Kara Maiers
2B – ICL: Kennedy Daugherty. CRJ: Calley Gralund