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West Burlington-Notre Dame softball team rolling with the punches

Matt LevinsThe Hawk Eye

0:17 0:31

This was supposed to be the big breakthrough year for the West Burlington-Notre Dame high school softball team.

After getting stunned by Davis County in a Class 3A regional semifinal game at Barb Carter Field in West Burlington a year ago, the Falcons had all the key pieces back to make a run at state.

Then, before the first practice even started, the Falcons were hit by the injury bug. All-state sophomore catcher Logan Kelley suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament during basketball. Her sophomore season of sports was over.

Then, all-state junior third baseman Abbey Bence underwent shoulder surgery after basketball season. He junior year of sports was over.

Yet not all was lost. WB-ND head coach David Oleson had a plan in place. He shifted sophomore Anna Engberg into Bence's spot at third base and slid freshman Lyndsey Kelley to catcher in place of her older sister.

The Falcons started off winning four games before Lyndsey Kelley suffered a knee injury of her own when she slipped carrying a basket of laundry up the stairs.

Suddenly, the Falcons were faced with putting their third-string catcher behind the plate to catch all-state pitcher Lauren Summers. 

The Falcons haven't looked back since putting senior Kylee Logan behind the plate.

WB-ND is ranked eighth in Class 3A and takes a 23-7 record into its Class 3A regional quarterfinal game against Washington at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Barb Carter Field.

Through it all, the Falcons have learned to roll with the punches.

“This year has been different. It’s been fun, but it’s been challenging," Oleson said. "Losing three girls of the caliber that we have lost is tough. We’ve been moving people around. We got in with the mentality of ‘Next man up.’ Kylee moved behind the plate. She hadn’t been there since her freshman year JV. She moved to the outfield. She came in during the offseason and caught a couple off the pitchers. She’s stepped right in and done an awesome job.”

Logan Kelley has been with the team in street clothes, playing a leadership role in the dugout. It is a far cry from what she hoped to be doing this summer, but she is playing her part.

“I have to support them and make sure everyone stays positive," Logan Kelley said. “It sucks. I am part of the team, but I wish I was playing. But I’m still being a leader in the dugout. It’s good to be with them.”

Lyndsey Kelley, who had a stellar season at the plate as an eighth grader, was off to a fast start with two home runs in four games before suffering a knee injury of her own. She, too, has been a part of the team, albeit on crutches, which limits her to a supporting role as a leader.

“It sucks. I’m going to miss it a lot. It’s hard to just watch," said Lyndsey Kelley, who is expected to be out four to six months. “I helped (Logan Kelley) out, but I obviously never thought it was something that was going to happen to me. I was more scared because I saw what happened to her.”

Kylee Logan, who played catcher in middle school and was a catcher on the Falcons' JV team for several year, was thrust into a role she was familiar with. But she hadn't caught Summers in five years. They quickly regained that chemistry and timing as a battery.

“It’s different. It’s very different. I haven’t ben back there for a couple years, but it’s taken some time to get used to," Logan said. “When I found out what happened to Lyndsey I didn’t think anything of it, but when we practice came and Dave said, ‘Next one up’ I didn’t think anything of it until my teammates started laughing and pointing at me. I was like,’ Oh, boy, here we go.’”

“They’re all great catchers. Ewe have a great catching staff and pitching staff. All around we’re good,:" Summers said. “It helps because she used to catch me my eighth-grade year and we used to be best friends. She used to talk me through it if I would struggle in games. She would take the ball to be and come out and make sure I was doing OK. She makes me feel happier.”

Kylee Logan attempts a bunt in West Burlington-Notre Dame softball game against Louisa-Muscatine.

Former WB-ND all-state catcher Alexis Davis is an assistant coach for the Falcons. She has been there to lend a helping hand and give advice to all three catchers through it all.

“I think Kylee did a great job stepping int a position no one wants to play, especially after playing the outfield for the last few years. She’s stepped up and done a great job. She started a little timid, but the more comfortable she gets back there, the more she’s looked like she’s been doing it this whole time," Davis said. “Mostly she has a lot of the fundamentals from all the catching she was doing in prior years and on JV. Working with Lauren can be an adjustment because a lot of pitchers done’t throw as hard to have as much spin as Lauren does, especially naturally. So getting back there is not easy to know where she is going to put them or where she is going to miss. It takes a lot. I think she’s done a good job of adjusting to that.”

Through all of the injuries and adjustments, the Falcons have rolled with the punches and now are three wins away from reach the state tournament for the first time since 2011

“We’re playing some really great defense," Oleson said. "When we went down to Fort Madison, I made the comment that was probably the best defensive two games back to back that I have seen out of the teams that I’ve coached. We just made play after play after play. We continue to do it. The girls have a goal in mind. It doesn’t matter who is out. They’re good with what we’re doing. We’ll take it as long as we can.”

Matt Levins is a sports reporter for the USA TODAY Network in Burlington, Iowa, who has covered local sports for 31 years. Reach him at mlevins@thehawkeye.com.