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When Davenport Assumption's softball team gets a baserunner, Ron Ferrill is not afraid to give the steal sign.

It has resulted in an Iowa Class 3A-high 165 stolen bases this summer.

"We run whether it runs us into wins or it runs us into losses," Ferrill admitted. "It is just something the opponent has to deal with."

The Knights' speed triggered their offense Monday night. Hannah Wislander delivered the exclamation point.

Fueled by a double steal in the second inning and a three-run blast from Wislander in the fifth, top-ranked Assumption advanced to the Class 3A state tournament for the third consecutive season with a 7-0 decision over Mount Vernon at the St. Vincent Athletic Complex.

Assumption (36-3-1) outscored its three regional opponents 20-2 and head to the Rogers Sports Complex in Fort Dodge next week as the favorite to defend its state championship.

It faces Benton Community (27-14) at 7 p.m. Monday in a quarterfinal contest.

"We have a big target on our back," freshman second baseman Olivia Wardlow said. "We're going to be nervous, but we've worked hard for this and we know we're good enough to go up there and do it."

Senior Hannah Kelley and junior Allie Timmons limited Mount Vernon (23-18) to just two hits. Kelley recorded 11 ground ball outs in five innings, and Timmons struck out four in the last two frames to secure it.

"They're a very balanced team," Mount Vernon coach Robin Brand said. "They're quick, they can hit the ball and they've got good pitchers. We would have had to play one of our best games in order to get them."

The Knights showcased it all.

It started on the bases. With runners on the corners and one out in the second inning, Ferrill had Emma Johnson swipe second.

As Mount Vernon made a play on Johnson, Nicole Yoder -- who doubled earlier in the inning -- raced home from third. The throw in went past the catcher and Johnson sprinted into third.

"We like to wreak havoc on the other team and always keep them on edge," Wislander said. "Our goal is to get them to mess up with the ball."

Ferrill admits he can overdo it at times, but he can live with aggressive outs.

"If the opponent does a good enough job of dealing with it, then they have a shot at beating us," Ferrill said. "If they don't, we're going to beat them."

Assumption has eight girls with at least 10 stolen bases this season.

"When you have that speed, it gets the other team to rush their throws and sometimes it causes them to make errors," Kelley said.

The Knights did plenty of hitting, too. Wardlow was 3-for-4 while Yoder and Carlie Sammon each had a double and a pair of hits.

Wislander broke the game open with a mammoth three-run homer. She took an outside fastball from Amanda Roe and deposited it over the fence in right-center.

"It meant the world, really, because I haven't had the greatest season," she said. "It really boosted my confidence."

Wislander is batting a shade under .300 after hitting better than .470 last year. It has led to frustration and extra time in the cage.

"I've done everything I can to stay confident in myself," she said. "I knew my time would come, and tonight was a night I needed to boost my self-confidence and get it back."

The pitching did the rest.

Kelley, a Northern Iowa recruit, yielded only one hit and retired the last 12 hitters she faced.

"I was definitely hitting my spots well and keeping them off balance," she said. "I just tried to do my job so when Allie came in, she would be the perfect complement to me."

Mount Vernon's best scoring chance came in the sixth against Timmons.

The Mustangs loaded the bases, thanks to a pair of errors, but Timmons recorded back-to-back strikeouts and induced a fly ball to get out of it.

"Those two pitchers do a really nice job of complementing one another," Brand said.

Now, Assumption is three wins from a state repeat and 83 victories in the past two seasons.

"Last year there was just an expectation we're going to go out and win," Kelley said. "There is still that expectation, but we have to push ourselves and remember to stay focused every game.

"We've done a good job of that to this point."

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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.