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PREP SOFTBALL

Longtime Central Springs head coach Nelson ends her career with a win

There was a distinct look of sadness, combined with pride, on the face of Belinda Nelson Thursday night.

She had just guided Central Springs softball to its highest finish at the Class 2A state tournament. She is the mainstay of the program that has served as continued excellence in North Iowa. She consistently produced all-state, all-conference and all-district players.

When the final out was recorded, it was the last time Nelson will step on a softball diamond as a head coach.

After 20 years at Central Springs and 21 seasons overall, Nelson is taking another opportunity away from softball, effectively ending her time with the Panthers.

She made a little history on the way out.

The Panthers cruised past top-ranked Wilton 12-1 in six innings to finish third at state, the best end result in school history. That beats out a fourth place finish after the 2018 season.

"(I) made a decision about (the) middle of June, finalized some things," Nelson said. "I'm not quitting teaching. I felt like this would be the group to go out with. If I can't give 100 percent at both, coaching and learning something brand new, I can't.

"I got to do what I love to do for 21 years."

Her coaching career ends with 452 wins and 206 losses, eight appearances at state, including the last seven in a row. After a few of those years going one-and-done, the 2021 version made the trip stick until the very end.

And that is what junior catcher Madisyn Kelley thought about afterwards.

"She's meant a lot to me," she said. "She's guided me through my high school career. She's a great coach."

Nelson informed everybody after suffering a heart-wrenching semifinal loss to North Linn on Wednesday that the third place game would be her last game.

So the focus immediately went to sending her out on top.

"Either way, we made history," Kelley said. "It is very emotional."

Nelson didn't want the focus on her. She wanted it to be on the players that have been the backbone for the 31-7 season.

"You're going to play for the seniors, you're playing for you," Nelson said. "I get to be a part of it. I'm along for the ride. I didn't think of me at all."

Coaching in and of itself she will miss, but when asked what she'll miss most, she began to get choked up and the emotions started to flood.

She was visibly proud and held back tears in the final breakdown after taking pictures with the third place trophy on the baseball diamond behind Iowa Central Field.

"I couldn't be more proud of these girls," Nelson said. "The relationships I have with these girls beyond softball. Lot of wedding invites, a lot of shower invites. We're kind of like a softball family."

Central Springs brings a lot back for 2022.

Kelley returns as catcher, the left side of the infield, 66 percent of the outfield, plus Cooper Klaahsen all are expected to come back next summer in what could be a better finish.

The Panthers will need to replace the right side of the infield and one outfield spot. Still, there are plenty of youth and depth pieces that can be utilized to fill those holes.

"Next year, we're going for that state championship," Kelley said. "Next year, we're coming in with a lot of fire. We got some big shoes to fill."

Even though Nelson won't be in the third base coaching box, she'll be in the stands. 

"Your goal for me now is go get that title," she said. "I'll be your biggest fan. I think they can do it."

She's leaving the program with much of the core in place and a travel ball team that is good hands. She does not anticipate the championship window to close any time soon.

"Whoever takes it over is going to be set," Nelson said.

Zach Martin is a sports reporter for the Globe Gazette. Reach him via email at zachary.martin@globegazette.com and follow him on Twitter @zach_martin95.

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