HUXLEY - The fifth inning has been kind to the No. 4 Ballard softball team in the postseason.
The Bombers scored six runs in the bottom of the fifth against Denison-Schleswig in the Class 4A regional finals en route to a 7-0 victory that put them in the state tournament for the first time since 2012. This was coming on the heels of a 10-run fifth in an 18-0 victory over Nevada in five innings during the regional quarterfinals on Saturday.
“Usually we get to the third time in the order and we’re used to the pitcher and we can jump on her pitches,” Ballard senior Abby Carlin said.
Ballard certainly did that against Denison-Schleswig hurler Sarah Heilesen.
Heilesen had limited Ballard to two hits over the first four innings. But in the fifth, Ballard connected for five hits off her, including three doubles, and added three walks.
Eighth-grader Isabella Hobbs came up with the big hit to get everything going.
Hall of Fame North Polk baseball coach Dave Middleton had recently spoken to the team about the importance of the bottom of the batting order when it came postseason time. Johnson took it to heart Tuesday, batting from the No. 8 spot in the order.
With runners on first and second, after a Karlee Ahrenholtz walk and perfect bunt single by Hannah Elliott, Johnson stepped into the batter’s box ready to slap hit. With the infield and outfield all drawn in, Johnson laced a shot over the outfield in the gap between right and center field.
Both Bomber courtesy runner Kate Rietz and Elliott scored on the play. Johnson moved to third on an errant throw, but was caught between third and home and tagged out.
It didn’t matter as the damage had been done.
“I’ve just been really struggling hitting and I just needed my turn to finally show that I can hit the ball,” Johnson said. “Tonight was my night.”
Skylar Rigby followed with a double two batters later. With two outs, Rigby scored on a wild pitch and Carlin kept things going with an RBI bloop hit to center field
Ahrenholtz finished the big inning in her second at-bat of the inning after driving in two runs on a Denison-Schleswig error.
In the sixth inning, Rigby put the finishing touches on the big night for Ballard offensively with a solo homer to center field.
“It felt really good,” Rigby said of her big blast. “She kind of gave me my dream pitch a little bit so I knew it was going out on that one. I saw it and I was like, uh-oh!”
In the bottom of the seventh, Carlin gave up a one-out hit to Rachelle Heilesen and then struck out the Monarch’s Ana Rogers. Denison-Schleswig’s Torri Herrig hit a bloop fly that Bomber second baseman Isabell Hobbs ran under heading into foul territory.
Hobbs bobbled the ball, but in fitting fashion Bomber, first baseman Maggie Larson was right there to catch it off the ricochet for the final out to send the Bombers to state.
“Isabell is a bulldog out there when it comes to those plays, so I just make sure I follow her in case plays like those ever happen,” Larson said. “I was shocked honestly. I’m not the fastest girl on the team, so I’m surprised I got there.”
Carlin finished the game with 13 strikeouts and no walks on the mound. She gave up just two hits, helping Ballard earn a spot at state.
“It’s exciting,” Carlin said. “This is what we’ve been working all year for.”
Ballard will take a 33-5 record into the state tournament. The Bombers will face old Raccoon River Conference rival and perennial state powerhouse Carlisle (26-14) in the quarterfinals at 7 p.m. next Tuesday on the Buena Vista University Diamond at the Rogers Sports Complex in Fort Dodge.
“We’ve worked so hard this entire season,” Carlin said. “I think that we deserve everything that we’ve gotten this year. I’m super excited.”
Denison-Schleswig ended the season at 29-7. Sarah Heilesen had six walks and three strikeouts in a losing effort.
Ballard 7, Denison-Schleswig 0
DS 000 000 0 - 0 2 2
B 000 061 X - 7 8 1
DS: Sarah Heilesen and Alex Mohr.
B: Abby Carlin and Skylar Rigby.
2B: B - Carlin, Rigby, Isabella Johnson.
HR: B - Rigby.
HUXLEY - The start of postseason play did nothing to rattle the young players for No. 4 Ballard during the Class 4A regional semifinal game between the Bombers and Nevada Saturday at Gary Telford Field in Huxley.
Ballard received a huge boost from its bench, overpowering an underdog Cub team, 18-0, in five innings.
The Bombers pounded out 19 hits off Cub pitcher Mackenzie Garrett. Eight of those base knocks came from players who either pinch hit or subbed in after the game had started.
Sophomore Kiersten McKinney led the charge for Ballard off the bench.
McKinney entered the game in the third inning after an RBI single from Karlee Ahrenholtz, and she drove in a run on a bunt single. Fellow sophomore Katie Sydnes followed with another RBI bunt single as part of a five-run Bomber inning.
In the top of the fifth, McKinney reached on another infield hit to help spark a huge 10-run Bomber inning that put the game out of reach. Ballard had five other players come off the bench and get a hit in the inning.
“Everyone has a role and we know our roles,” McKinney said. “(Head coach Charlie Husak) just gives us a lot of chances. So when we we get those opportunities, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”
Freshmen Shayia Schulze and Megan Hadaway, sophomores Megan Kyhl and Allison Vetter and junior Kate Rietz came off the bench for a base hit in the Bomber half of the fifth. Kyhl and Vetter each added an RBI and eighth-grader Molly Houge also entered the game and drove in a run.
As big a lift the young reserves provided for Ballard, it was seniors — Jenna Moody and Abby Carlin — who set the tempo. Moody was 3-for-3 with a double and three RBI and Carlin went 2-for-3 with three RBI, including a two-run home run as part of Ballard’s monster fifth inning.
“Live it up,” Moody said of the big performance to start her last postseason go-around. “It was good to get hits. My teammates were in the dugout cheering me on and that always helps.”
Carlin had a little bit of a rocky start on the mound. After Ballard took a 3-0 lead in the top of the first, Nevada managed to load the bases with one out in the bottom of the inning when Ellie Gray reached on an error and Grace Francis and Mackenzie Garrett each hit singles.
But Carlin dug down and caught the next two Cub batters looking on strikes to get out of the inning unscathed. From there she only gave up three hits, finishing with seven strikeouts and no walks.
“The first inning is always the hardest,” Carlin said. “You’re still learning about the strike zone and the other team’s hitters. I knew my defense had my back, so I wasn’t stressed out when they loaded the bases at all.”
Nevada ended the game with five hits off Carlin. Francis had two singles and Garrett, Gray and Sydney Mosinski each tallied one.
Garrett was the losing pitcher. She ended the game with three walks and two strikeouts.
Nevada also had two double plays on defense.
The Cubs ended their first season under head coach John Bass at 4-21. But they went out on a high note after earning their first postseason win in several years with a 3-2 eighth-inning victory at Harlan in the regional quarterfinals on Thursday.
Ballard advanced to the regional finals with a 32-5 record.
Ballard 18, Nevada 0
B 305 0(10) - 18 19 2
N 000 00 - 0 5 3
B: Abby Carlin and Skylar Rigby.
N: Mackenzie Garrett and Katie Sullivan.
2B: B - Jenna Moody.
HR: B- Carlin.
ADEL - Ballard concluded the regular season by ousting No. 11 (Class 4A) Adel-Desoto-Minburn, 4-0, July 3 at Adel.
The No. 4 Bombers broke a scoreless tie with a run in the fifth and added three more in the sixth. Pitcher Hannah Elliott and the Bomber defense kept the Tigers off the board in the bottom of the sixth and the seventh to complete the shutout and finish 12-2 in the Raccoon River Conference — good for second in the conference behind No. 2 Winterset.
Ballard had seven hits and two steals in the win. Maggie Larson was 2-for-3 with a solo home run and two runs and Skylar Rigby ended up 2-for-4 with an RBI to lead the Bombers offensively.
Isabell Hobbs and Karlee Ahrenholtz both singled and scored and Hobbs also walked once. Katie Sydnes added a pinch-hit, two-run single and Rachel Newell picked up one walk.
Elliott gave up only three hits and two walks and she struck out two in seven innings as the winning pitcher.
Abbie Hlas surrendered four runs — two earned — with two strikeouts and walks apiece in seven innings as the losing ADM pitcher.
Ballard 4, ADM 0
B 000 013 0 - 4 7 NA
ADM 000 000 0 - 0 3 NA
B: Hannah Elliott and Skylar Rigby.
ADM: Abbie Hlas and Lindsey Lange.
HR: B - Maggie Larson.