FORT DODGE, Iowa — Sioux City Heelan knows it faces a tall task. It also knows it’s more than capable of completing it.
The ninth-rated Crusaders (31-6) will face No. 2 Dallas Center-Grimes (33-5) and sophomore ace pitcher Paige Lowary at 3 p.m. Tuesday in a Class 4-A state softball quarterfinal at the Rogers Sports Complex.
As a freshman, Lowary was named a first-team all-stater and the Class 3-A pitcher of the year. This season, she’s 29-3 with a 0.43 ERA, recording 326 strikeouts and 64 walks in 21313 innings.
“We know we’re going to be facing one of the premier pitchers in the state,” Heelan coach Todd Vlaanderen said. “We just want to put the ball in play and eliminate strikeouts. You only get a certain amount of opportunities against a pitcher like that. When you do have the opportunity, you have to execute.”
Heelan is making its fourth straight state appearance and seventh overall. It has yet to win a first-round contest. The past three years the Crusaders lost 5-4 to Carlisle in eight innings and 1-0 and 2-1 to Keokuk.
“We’ve lost three great games here, three heartbreakers,” Vlaanderen said. “One of our goals this year is to get that first-round win, and I think our confidence level is back up.”
Heelan won its first 22 games before encountering a rough stretch, losing five of eight.
“Not to make excuses, but we played 14 games in 16 days in one stretch,” Vlaanderen said. “We were dragging a little bit. We took four days off and I could see we were more crisp at the plate.”
It’s Dallas Center-Grimes’ fourth state appearance. The Fillies finished third in 3-A last year. Their top hitter is junior Macey Wolfe (.382, 7 HR, 37 RBIs).
Heelan junior Larissa Uhl has been dependable in the circle. She’s 26-5 with a 1.12 ERA, along with 171 strikeouts and 41 walks in 20613 innings.
Heelan’s top hitters have been junior MaKayla Augustine (.398, 28 RBIs) and senior Krissy Neumann (.395, 33 RBIs).
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