Angie Gorkow made her way down a line of teammates. The senior leader of the Bobcats embraced each one after the team’s postgame huddle with tears lingering in her eyes.
Her Benton squad fell 5-0 in the regional semifinals at Solon High School on Friday night. It marked the end of the high school career for the Bobcats’ lone remainder from their 2016 state championship team.
To Gorkow, however, the evening meant more than a departure from the familiar. As she neared the end of the hug line, two teammates remained: her sisters, Sarah and Megan.
“I think the worst part was knowing that I’m never going to take it with my sisters again,” Angie said.
She lingered on the field with them while the grounds crew began repairing the field. She said the end of her high school career hadn’t quite sunk in after the game.
“To think that we’re not going to go to practice on Monday or have another game is, I think, one of the hardest parts too.”
“Angie’s been a special player since she was an eighth-grader,” Benton head coach Eric Stenberg said. “The thing about Angie is she’s a true leader. She picks up these younger players, she teaches kids.”
The prospects of Angie’s high school softball days continuing were bleak from the start of Friday’s loss. A 1-2-3 top of the first inning preceded a Spartans rally in the bottom half. Pitcher Katelyn Buscher managed to retire the first two batters on a grounder back to the circle and a flyout to center field, respectively.
Solon eighth-grader Hilary Wilson stroked a two-out double to deep center field to nab the game’s first hit. The Bobcats intentionally walked senior Skylar Stookey, giving fellow senior Taylor Moore the opportunity to drive in the opening run.
Moore did just that with a sharp single to left field to chase home Wilson. Freshman Ava Stebral followed with an RBI single of her own to give the Spartans a 2-0 advantage.
The top of the second gave Benton one of its two hits on the evening, courtesy of Megan Gorkow. With one out, Megan bombed a ball off the right field wall. But right fielder Elyse Rios played the bounce perfectly and got the ball back into the infield before Gorkow had the chance to round out a double, holding her to a long, loud single. Buscher struck out in the next at-bat, and Sarah grounded out to the shortstop to bring an end to the brief threat.
The Spartans made more opportunities for themselves in the second. Pitcher Kayla West drove a ball to the center-field wall and raced to second base for a leadoff double. A bunt down the third-base line and a sharp liner to left field after that loaded the bases for Solon. With the infield playing short, Buscher induced a ground ball to Angie Gorkow, who threw home to catcher Brielle Hogan. But Hogan couldn’t hold onto the ball as courtesy runner Stella Mesch crossed the plate.
The next grounder Buscher forced was more successful. Still creeping toward the batter, Benton’s Megan Gorkow snagged a bouncing ball toward third and threw out Solon’s Monet Barnhouse at the plate. Stookey drew a walk on the next at-bat to drive in another, and Moore followed that up with her second RBI of the night on a sacrifice fly to left field.
Buscher held her own throughout the rest of the game, giving up just two more hits throughout and not allowing more than one baserunner in any one inning beyond the second. She finished the evening having allowed seven hits and a pair of walks.
“She was hitting the balls in the zone,” Stenberg said. “I’m sure she’ll say it wasn’t her best outing, but we’ll learn from it. She’s a competitor.”
Despite Buscher’s performance in the final four innings of work, Benton’s bats couldn’t wake from their slumber. The Bobcats went down in order in the top of the third. When the bats did make contact, the baserunning ended up costing Benton. Angie Gorkow led off the top of the fourth with a base hit to right field before advancing to second on a fielder’s choice where eighth-grader Taylor Robinson was thrown out on a closely contested call at first.
Gabby McKee, the next batter up, grounded a ball to Solon’s shortstop, who caught Gorkow in a rundown between second and third. After a few attempts to wrest free of the trap, the Spartans finally caught up to her as she retreated to second. Megan Gorkow drew a walk to push McKee to second, but Buscher struck out to end the inning. The Bobcats never got a runner past first the rest of the way.
“[Solon’s] fundamentally sound,” Stenberg said. “Their pitcher threw well, they hit the ball. We just didn’t make the plays early and got in the hole. We sort of played on our heels, and we just couldn’t overcome it. We just played like we weren’t ready.”
For the Bobcats, Friday marked the end of its season. Coach Stenberg said his team is preparing for the future already.
“We had some losses, and some things didn’t go our way this year earlier,” he said, “but we battled and started playing better towards the end. A lot of positives. Our program’s in good shape.
“We have everyone back that started except for Angie... I think we’ll be in good shape.”
Following the game, Gorkow, bloodshot eyes and all, still remained positive despite her team’s defeat. She plans on attending the University of Northern Iowa in the fall semester and joining its softball program. But she speculated she hadn’t worn a Benton uniform for the last time Friday night.
“I wanna get my coaching license and come back and volunteer,” she said. “That’s my plan right now, but we’ve got a little ways to think about that.”