FORT DODGE, Iowa — They were inconsolable after last year’s championship heartbreak. They were crying again on the closing day of the state tournament.
These were much different tears.
Class 5A seventh-ranked Pleasant Valley halted the Central Iowa Metropolitan League’s 14-year title stranglehold in the large-school softball class with the program’s first state crown Friday afternoon over top-rated Waukee 8-2 at the Rogers Sports Complex.
“Very, very happy tears,” junior Alexia Lara said. “Just tears of joy. We came out and accomplished our goal.”
After posing for a team picture with the trophy, assistant coach Amy LaBarge huddled the team together. It ended with a scream of “Mission accomplished.”
The team motto this season was “Our mission continues.”
PV was a strike and an out from celebrating a title last summer. Johnston rallied for a 3-2 victory.
With eight starters back, the Spartans were determined to return and finish the task.
“That game last year brought us to where we are today,” pitcher Ellie Spelhaug said. “I think everyone, myself included, felt so much more confident going into this game.
“We were more prepared and ready. It was a complete turnaround.”
The Spartans (35-8) erupted for six first-inning runs against Michigan signee Sarah Schaefer, who came in 25-0 with a 0.60 ERA and tossed a one-hitter against PV less than a month ago.
PV made a concerted effort to jump on Schaefer’s first pitch.
Three pitches into the game, the Spartans had the bases loaded after Carli Spelhaug and Mallory Lafever recorded singles and Lara reached on an error.
“We watched film on their pitcher and knew she threw first-pitch strikes,” Carli Spelhaug said. “Our plan going in was to attack that first pitch because it probably would be the best one we were going to get.
“It worked out for us.”
Hannah Mausser followed with a run-scoring single. Rylee Carlson, Emily Wood and Tara Theusch also had RBIs in the frame.
By the time it ended, PV sent 11 hitters to the plate and capitalized on three Waukee (40-4) miscues.
“You don’t expect an inning like that against Waukee,” first-year coach Jose Lara said. “That gave us enough fuel to keep that fire burning. We wanted to keep adding and adding.”
Carli Spelhaug admitted the first inning was releasing some frustration from last year’s title-game finish.
“We talked before the game about that feeling from last year,” she said. “It got us so pumped up. We weren’t going to take the silver again. We were going to get gold.”
Carli Spelhaug had three hits and was on base all four times. She finished the three-game tournament with a half-dozen hits and was named captain of the all-tournament team.
“This is definitely one to remember for my entire life,” she said.
Waukee tried to crawl back into it. It scored a run in the first and another in the second.
“After we got that third out in the first inning, we came together and said, ‘We can’t get comfortable,’” catcher Hannah Mausser said. “We saw what happened last year. We couldn’t take anything for granted or count anybody out.”
Ellie Spelhaug and Lara made the cushion hold up.
Spelhaug pitched five innings and yielded just one earned run and three hits. Lara threw the final two frames, extending her scoreless streak to 8 1/3 innings at the state tournament.
“Our pitching was outstanding,” Mausser said. “I’ve said all year I’ve been catching the two best (5A) pitchers in the state. They came out and showed they are the two best.”
PV added a run in the third and another in the sixth.
Rachel Tebbe, who joined Carli Spelhaug, Lara and Emily Wood on the all-tournament team, ripped a double and scored on Spelhaug’s single in the third.
In the sixth, Carli Spelhaug led off with a single, advanced with a sacrifice and scored on Mausser’s second hit of the game.
“We just wanted this so bad,” Alexia Lara said. “We had a lot more grit, and we showed that we wanted it a lot more than they did.”
Alexia Lara caught a pop fly just in front of the plate for the final out. The celebration ensued and the mission was complete.
PV, which was the preseason No. 1, knocked off three CIML programs in the tournament — No. 2 West Des Moines Valley, No. 6 Urbandale and Waukee.
"To be the first one in PV history and prove ourselves and win a state championship means everything," Tebbe said.
The Spartans are the first school to win the largest classification from eastern Iowa since North Scott in 2002.
“The girls can move on from what happened last year now,” coach Lara said. “The challenge now is to come back hungry again next year.”
PV was going to savor this moment first.
Mausser fought back tears while describing what it meant to finish her high school career with a championship.
“I’ve been on a lot of teams, but this team has the most heart I’ve ever been on,” she said. “It has been such an honor and such a blast to be on this team.”