FORT DODGE, Iowa — Alexia Lara knew it was extraordinary off her bat.

“That was one of those where you just know,” she said.

The junior clubbed a mammoth two-run homer in the top half of the ninth inning Tuesday night to power Pleasant Valley’s softball team past second-ranked West Des Moines Valley 6-4 in a Class 5A state quarterfinal at the Roger Sports Complex.

After going hitless in her previous three at-bats, Lara jumped on Mackenzie Ward’s first pitch.

Lara deposited it over the fence in left-center. It reached the back row of bleachers, approximately a 225-foot blast.

“She was coming inside on the first pitch multiple times,” Lara said. “I was looking for an inside one and got it.”

It was Lara’s 12th home run of the season and 27th of her career. None have been bigger.

“You just get a lot of adrenaline and it pumps you up,” she said. “You scream really loud, and you can’t wait to get to home plate and celebrate with all your teammates.”

The win sends seventh-ranked PV (33-8) into the semifinals for the second consecutive season. Coach Jose Lara’s squad meets No.6 Urbandale (32-8) at 1 p.m. Thursday.

It was the second straight year the Spartans bumped the Tigers out of title contention. PV doubled them up 4-2 in last year’s state semifinal.

“They’re a very good program and never are going to go down without a fight,” coach Lara said of Valley. “When we come face these (Des Moines) metro teams, you know it is not going to be easy and could go on for 10, 15, 20 innings. You have to be ready to play until the last out.”

When PV recorded a double play in the bottom of the ninth to secure it, a massive celebration ensued in the pitching circle, almost the type reserved for a state championship.

“This game is the one we really wanted to get because it puts you in the running to get to that state championship,” said second baseman Carli Spelhaug, who had a pair of hits. “Our mission doesn’t stop here.”

Rachel Tebbe kept the Spartans afloat early.

The No. 9 hitter, who came in batting .196 with four RBIs all summer, recorded a run-scoring triple in the second inning and smacked a three-run homer in the fourth to give PV a 4-1 lead.

“I don’t know if it is the fans or my team, but we get so hyped and just helps motivate me and my teammates,” Tebbe said.

Tebbe is one of two seniors in PV’s starting lineup.

“She’s hungry,” coach Lara said. “She wants it. That focus goes from broad to very, very small and very specific right now. Everything she did today was on point.”

PV, though, had to survive some dicey moments to extend its quest for a first state title.

Valley (38-5) rallied with three runs in the fifth to even the game and chased starting pitcher Ellie Spelhaug.

Then in the bottom of the eighth, the Tigers’ Jackie Feldt ripped a lead-off double off Alexia Lara. Cleanup hitter Karley Kopaska tried to bunt Feldt to third but popped out.

Jamie Feldt followed with a fly out to center, and then Jackie Feldt was caught stealing to end the frame.

“When you don’t execute the bunt in those high-pressure situations, you minimize your chances to win,” Valley coach Tom Bakey said. “That’s what happened for us there. If we get that girl to third, anything happens.

“All the credit in the world goes to the PV kids. When we came back, they could have folded the tent and did not.”

In fact, when PV wiggled out of the jam, it celebrated back to the dugout.

“It was a momentum changer,” Carli Spelhaug said. “It immediately pumped us up in the dugout, and we knew we had it.”

Mallory Lafever reached on a one-out error to set the stage for Alexia Lara, who didn’t yield a run in 4 1/3 innings of relief to earn the win.

It was Lara's bat that sent PV over the top. And it brought a huge smile from her father and head coach as she rounded the bases. 

“I’m not going to lie,” coach Lara said. “It brought chills to my skin. It really did. I see my mom up there, my dad and we’re an emotional family. We do everything with heart.

“To see her do that, it means a lot to the family.”

Pleasant Valley 6, WDM Valley 4 (9 inn.) 

Pleasant Valley;010;300;002;—;6;10;1 

WDM Valley;100;030;000;—;4;7;3

Ellie Spelhaug, Alexia Lara (5) and Hannah Mausser. Mackenzie Ward and Karley Kopaska. WP — Lara (12-3). LP — Ward (20-4). Two or more hits — PV, Carli Spelhaug, Tara Theusch, Rachel Tebbe; Valley, Alex Honnold. 2B — Valley, Maggie House, Jackie Feldt. 3B — PV, Tebbe. HR — PV, Tebbe, Lara. RBI — PV, Tebbe 4, Lara 2; Valley, Kopaska 2, Honnold, Jamie Feldt.

Records: PV 33-8; WDM Valley 38-5


Sports Editor

Prep sports editor, with emphasis on covering the Mississippi Athletic Conference and Iowa area high schools. I've been in sports journalism for 17 years, the last five at the Quad-City Times.