FORT DODGE, Iowa — They sang, they danced and they played games to stay loose and pass the time.
When your softball program has never captured a state championship, an additional 4 1/2-hour wait is no biggie even if it means finishing in the wee hours.
Thanks to a Class 3A state-tournament record 20 strikeouts from Nicole Timmons and one big offensive inning, Davenport Assumption put an exclamation point on its record-setting season early Saturday morning with an 8-0 victory over Albia in the title game at the Rogers Sports Complex.
“It is a surreal moment,” senior catcher Emma Valainis said. “It didn’t hit me until we had that trophy in our hands that we were finally done with our mission. We finished our business, and that was our number one goal this year.
“We’ve left our mark on Assumption softball.”
Assumption and Albia had to patiently wait to take the field for the last of five finals.
The game was initially slated to begin at 7:09 p.m., but weather delays earlier in the day Friday pushed that back a couple of hours.
Then to complicate matters, the 2A final before it between Iowa City Regina and Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont went a five-class state tournament-record 16 innings.
It was 11:34 p.m. before the 3A final commenced. When Assumption had its palms on the state championship trophy, it was 1:23 a.m.
“We all kind of wanted to play a midnight game,” Valainis said. “I think we came out as loose and with the most energy that we’ve had.”
Assumption (44-1) finished the summer with 44 consecutive wins, the most victories in a season for an Iowa team since Clear Creek-Amana was 45-0 in 2009. It rolled through the Mississippi Athletic Conference without a blemish and outscored six postseason foes 55-1.
“We’re arguably the best team in the state in any class,” Assumption coach Ron Ferrill said. “I haven’t talked about that all year because I didn't want to take away from other teams.
“We’ve beaten the 5A champion (Pleasant Valley, three times). We’ll never know, but we’re the best in our class today and nobody will be able to take that away from us.”
Timmons saved her best outing of the season for last.
A year after Benton Community’s Amber Fiser struck out 19 Assumption hitters in the finale, Timmons one-upped her.
The Drake signee and all-stater overwhelmed Albia with her riseball. The Lady Dees never had a ball travel farther than 20 feet until Hannah Isley’s single in the sixth inning.
“I’ve been waiting for this game all year long,” Timmons said. “I really, really focused hard.”
Captain of the all-tournament team, Timmons concluded her senior season with a 25-0 record, an ERA around 0.40 and 321 strikeouts.
Sixteen of her career-high 20 punch outs were swinging. Albia had three hits, two coming off the bat of Isley.
“You could just tell from her warmup, I knew this was going to be her night to shine,” Valainis said. “We came out here and I said, ‘Nicole, you've got to know you’re the best pitcher in the state of Iowa and you’re about to show it. Just do exactly what we got done to us last year by another phenomenal pitcher.’
“She came out and performed better than we all could have expected.”
Timmons was motivated after not making it out of the third inning in last year’s final.
In three state tournament games, she fanned 41 hitters in 17 innings.
“That’s probably the greatest feeling I’ve ever had,” Timmons said.
With a chance to record strikeouts for all 21 outs, Ferrill didn’t let Timmons finish. He brought in Hannah Kelley, the MAC player of the year who is expected to become the team’s top pitcher next summer, to get the final out.
“Nicole has meant a lot to the program, meant a lot to me personally and she’s played a huge part in elevating us to this level,” Ferrill said. “I felt it was a great opportunity to get a nice standing ovation as she leaves the program.”
Assumption pieced together all the runs it needed in an eight-run third inning.
The Knights sent 12 hitters to the plate and recorded eight hits against Albia freshman Jena Lawrence.
It was small ball that triggered the onslaught. The first four hits Assumption tallied in the inning didn’t leave the infield.
“It just shows you it is not always power that gets you through the game,” outfielder Sophie VanSeveren said. “You don’t always need home runs.”
That small ball, some of it intentional, and Assumption's speed had Albia on its heels.
“We’re dangerous in many ways,” Ferrill said. “We can beat you with the long ball, we can beat you with the short game and we can beat you by just being so fast that we force you into mistakes.
“We came in knowing our speed might be hard for them to handle.”
Olivia Wardlow, Valainis, Hannah Wislander and Emma Johnson each had two hits for the Knights among their 11 safeties.
Besides Timmons, Valainis, Lea Nelson and VanSeveren represented Assumption on the all-tournament team.
“It was huge for us to finish this off,” Kelley said. “I think from the beginning we were just looked at as an undefeated team (against Iowa competition), but to come out and finish this championship game proved a lot for us.”
The softball crown gives the Knights three state titles in the past two months for girls athletics, joining track and field and soccer.
This one was unique given it was their first in the sport and they were posing for pictures and celebrating well past 2 a.m. on the field at the Roger Sports Complex.
“If it means getting a state title,” Valainis said, “we don’t mind it."