The Tigers were right where they needed to be moving into the bottom half of the fifth inning against co-Lakes Conference champs, Le Mars, in Saturday's 4A Regional Softball quarterfinal.
The game was knotted at 1-1 when Le Mars' Emily Pick started the fifth inning with a home run, which was followed by four Tiger errors to open the door to a five-run fifth and eventually a 11-1 win for the Bulldogs in six innings.
"It was a tale of two games," Spencer coach Greg Jones said. "We couldn't have been playing much better. When we got girls on, we were moving them around. It was anybody's game. But then, basically, the wheels fell off."
Le Mars scored once in the bottom of the first and Spencer would even the game at 1-1 in the top of the third when Alexa Allen doubled in Maddie Gould, who had walked and stolen second.
The Pick home run changed the momentum and Spencer's defense couldn't make the plays behind starter Taylor Anderson as they committed four infield errors on the next five batters, allowing four more runs. Three more errors followed in the sixth inning, along with a Madison Heidebrink home run, for five more runs and the 11-1 win. Spencer committed eight errors in the game.
Anderson would take the loss after five-plus innings, allowing six hits and four earned runs. The junior pitcher also doubled in the game, which was Spencer's only other hit.
Molly Renken earned the win with six innings, two hits, one earned run, one walk and five strikeouts. Le Mars (28-9) advances to face Bishop Heelan (30-6) today (Tuesday) at Sioux City West at 7 p.m. for a trip to the state tournament.
For the Tigers (13-17, 7-7 Lakes), it brings the end of a up-and-down season that featured a 6-2 start to conference play with wins over Emmetsburg and Spirit Lake but also included losing 11 of their last 14 games.
Spencer's team featured a lot of youth, including eight underclassmen who were everyday players and returning letterwinners. They graduated three seniors - pitcher/left fielder Carly Richardson, center fielder Maddie Gould, and right fielder Paige McCord.
Juniors Allen and Anderson, sophomores Kari Kramer, Paige Wigen and Piper Swanson, and freshmen Madi Rost, Karis Rhode, Kelli Kramer and Hailey Huckfelt all gained valuable varsity experience again this year.
"We've got as strong of a nucleus as anyone in the conference coming back," Jones said. "Next year will come down to what the girls make of it in the offseason. We've got to get stronger, physically and mentally. I think if we get physically stronger, we'll hit the ball harder, and that will help our confidence throughout the season. And we need a little bit more commitment to the program. The girls have to decide what they want for next year. The conference is going to go to who works the hardest."
Rhode led the Tigers in batting this season with a .361 average and a .458 slugging percentage. Kari Kramer led the team in hits (32), doubles (8) and RBIs (26) while hitting at a .323 clip in team-high 99 at-bats.
Rost led Spencer in runs scored with 23 and walks (11). Allen was a perfect 23-for-23 on stolen base attempts.
Richardson was 6-8 in 84 1/3 innings with a 4.40 ERA, while striking out 63 batters and walking 60. Anderson went 5-7 on the year in 63 1/3 innings, striking out 41 and walking 26 with a 4.64 ERA.
Rhode (third base), Kari Kramer (second base) and Wigen (catcher) started all 30 games for the Tigers. Wigen threw out seven would-be base stealers on the season.