FORT DODGE, Iowa — The pitching was not quite as sharp. The defense was not as crisp. The offense took several innings to get revved up.
After 20 consecutive wins, top-ranked Wilton High School saw its quest of playing for a state softball championship halted Wednesday afternoon with a 9-6 defeat to seventh-ranked Earlham in a Class 2A semifinal at the Rogers Sports Complex.
“We made mistakes on a lot of simple things we do every day in practice,” outfielder Payton Ganzer said. “That makes a lot of us mad and frustrated because we know we can do those things and we could have won this game.”
Earlham (34-9) is in the state title game for the first time in seven seasons and faces second-ranked North Linn at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Wilton (29-4) meets Central Springs in the third-place contest at 6 p.m. Thursday.
“This has been our dream for a long time and now we get to be in the ship,” Earlham leadoff hitter Grace Porter said after going 4-for-4 with a walk.
The Cardinals applied the pressure throughout with multiple slap hitters. Earlham scored two runs in the first, two more in the second and two in the third.
Wilton started Grace Madlock in the pitching circle, but she lasted just an inning. That, combined with three early defensive miscues, had the Beavers in a deficit the entire game.
“Some days, the best teams lose because you don’t have it,” Wilton coach Kortney Denkman said. “It does sting knowing we could have done better, but congrats to Earlham. That’s a great hitting team.”
Earlham finished with 14 hits.
A big turning point came in the third inning.
Reliever Mila Johnson was called for an illegal pitch after Wilton figured it had a 1-2-3 inning. Instead, the next five Earlham batters reached and it resulted in two runs.
“It is disappointing that one call made the momentum switch,” Denkman said.
Denkman said the umpire told Wilton’s coaches Johnson was replanting after she pushed off the mound. Pitching coach Kamryn Meyer, an all-state pitcher at Durant, went out and showed the umpire Johnson’s drag line.
“He wasn’t having it,” Denkman said. “We haven’t been called on that all year, but it is what it is. It is his discretion.”
“It was a big shocker to us,” outfielder Chloe Wells said. “I would never blame a game on the umps, but it may have played a part.”
Wilton tried to chip away.
Ganzer ripped a line drive homer to left center in the fourth to trim the deficit to 6-3. Wells had a two-out, two-run single in the fifth to make it 6-5.
The Beavers wouldn’t get any closer.
Earlham recorded back-to-back singles to begin the sixth and it led to a pair of runs. It added an insurance run in the seventh.
Wilton did bring the tying run to the plate in the bottom half of the seventh, but Madelyn Wade flied out to right field to end the game.
It was Wilton's first loss since falling to Clear Creek Amana and Fairfield on June 12.
The Beavers finished with 11 hits, including three from Ganzer. Wells had two hits and knocked in three runs.
“I’ve been in a little bit of a slump, so I’m pretty proud of myself that I could come back, especially when my team needed me the most,” Ganzer said.
“We just didn’t fight back like we usually do. We weren’t ready for what we were coming up against. It just wasn’t our day.”
Wilton has a chance to finish the season with a 30th victory and a third-place trophy.
For Wells, a five-year starter, it will mark the final game before heading off to play at Buena Vista University.
“It is going to be tough knowing that will be the last time I ever put a Wilton Beaver jersey on,” Wells said.
The Beavers have five other seniors on their roster.
“This stings right now and we told them to let it sting a little bit, but focus on what you need to improve on for (Thursday),” Denkman said. “We can still get third, something no Wilton team has ever done before.”