The final season of competition for the Collins-Maxwell-Baxter softball team may not have had the storybook ending the team had hoped for, but the Raiders still managed to end on a high note in 2017.
Coming off last year’s fifth-place finish in Class 3A at the state softball tournament, CMB had high expectations entering 2017. The Raiders began the season ranked No. 1 in 2A, and after some early pitfalls, they finished the regular season in that exact same position.
But Des Moines Christian halted CMB’s run at another state tournament berth in the 2A regional semifinals.
The upset loss left the Raiders full of heartache as the Baxter and Collins-Maxwell high schools now begin the transition to becoming separate athletic programs.
“The girls stayed on the field for a long time after the final game crying and hugging, so I think that really sums up what it meant,” CMB head softball coach Troy Houge said. “They did not want this split and neither did I. But it has happened, and I think a lot of people could learn a lot about how to handle bad situations from these girls.”
The Raider players may have been hurting after the game, but they can take great pride in how they represented CMB in its final year as a program.
CMB finished its final season at 26-6 overall. The Raiders won the Heart of Iowa Conference title outright with a 14-1 record, giving them back-to-back conference titles in their final two seasons in the conference.
The Raiders also ended the season ranked No. 1 for the first time in program history.
“We had a great year,” Houge said. “It was a little disappointing not getting to state, but in the grand scheme of things, the girls played hard all of the time and won a lot of games. If we had played poorly in the game against Des Moines Christian I would be more upset, but the girls played hard and it just was not to be.”
“As I told the girls, nobody had to deal with the things they had to deal with and they handled it all with great class and dignity, so they are champions in my book,” Houge said. “I could not have asked for a greater group of girls to coach.”
The season began with CMB earning a 1-0 HOIC victory over Greene County. The Raiders then dropped two of its next three games — falling to 4A power Oskaloosa by a 12-2 score and getting upset by rival Prairie City-Monroe at home in HOIC play by a 5-1 margin — with a 3-1 victory at Roland-Story coming in between.
But soon after the PCM loss, things really started to click for the Raiders. They went on a six-game winning streak and won 15 of their next 17 games.
CMB defeated Gilbert (11-1), Saydel (5-4), Alburnett (10-4), Grand View Christian (10-0), Roland-Story (4-2) and North Polk (7-4) during its six-game streak. The Raiders came up short against BCLUW by a 4-3 score June 6, but it turned out to be only a small hiccup.
On June 7, CMB downed South Hamilton by a 6-1 score. The Raiders followed that up with a 6-4 win over Saydel; on June 10 they defeated Benton Community (3-2) and South Hardin (13-1) and suffered an 11-5 setback against Newton.
The victory over Benton — then the No. 1 team 4A — proved CMB was one of the best teams in the entire state.
“The win against Benton (was our biggest highlight) because the girls did not quit,” Houge said. “ We took the lead, then lost it, and fought back to tie it in the seventh before winning in the eighth.”
The Raiders followed up the Newton tournament by sweeping Nevada in a doubleheader (10-0 and 12-0) and defeating Roland-Story (7-1) Greene County (10-0) and Van Meter (7-0).
On June 17, CMB traveled to the Rose Festival Tournament in State Center. The Raiders prevailed over Grand View Christian (13-1) and avenged their earlier loss to Newton with a 6-3 victory — their only loss of the day came at the hands of Benton by an 8-3 score.
CMB got revenge on PCM June 19 with a 7-3 win over the Mustangs in Monroe. The Raiders whipped Gilbert by a 5-0 score on June 21, then won the Collins Days Tournament three days later by downing Colo-Nesco (13-2) and Montezuma (4-1).
The Raiders clinched the HOIC title June 26 with a 2-0 victory at North Polk, despite being shorthanded a couple key players.
“Winning the conference for the second consecutive year with only one loss (was a highlight),” Houge said. “I did not expect that to happen with the talent in the conference this year.”
CMB ended the regular season with a 3-0 victory over eventual 1A state qualifier Colfax-Mingo.
In the 2A regional quarterfinals, CMB took down Woodward-Granger by a 6-2 score in Collins. That set up the date with Des Moines Christian, where CMB fell 4-0, despite getting seven hits to just three for the Lions as the Raiders were hurt by giving up two home runs.
CMB displayed great camaraderie during its final season as a team.
“They were a great group of girls who really enjoyed playing together,” Houge said. “It was fun to watch them come together as the year progressed.”
As a team, CMB scored 198 runs and hit .331 with a .408 on-base percentage, .448 slugging average, 47 doubles, six triples, 13 home runs, 106 walks and 69 steals in 75 attempts. In the field, the Raiders had a .943 fielding average with 603 putouts, 170 assists and 47 errors in 820 chances.
Freshmen Mikayla Houge, Abby Husak and Holly Jessen, seniors Abbey Kahler and Mikayla Eslinger, juniors Katie Camp and Jordynn Wesselink and sophomore Hannah Caple all hit over .300 for CMB.
Mikayla Houge hit .421 with a .486 OBP, .621 SA, 11 doubles, one triple, two home runs, 16 runs and 27 RBI. In the field she made 63 putouts and 27 assists, playing multiple infield positions.
Husak posted a .467 average, .500 OBP, .511 SA, one triple, six steals, 22 runs and 12 RBI. She made three putouts, one assist and no errors in limited time in the field.
Jessen recorded a .375 batting average with a .447 OBP, .534 SA, five doubles, three homers, 19 runs and 20 RBI. At third base and catcher she made 78 putouts, 33 assists and just two errors.
Kahler tallied a .337 average, .432 OBP, .533 SA, nine doubles, three home runs, eight runs and a team-high 32 RBI. On the mound and at first base she had 55 putouts and 24 assists.
Eslinger produced a .326 batting average, .402 OBP, .576 SA, six doubles, one triple, a team-best five home runs, 23 runs and 25 RBI. At second base she made 32 assists and 25 putouts.
Camp hit .319 from the No. 2 spot in the order and she had 25 runs and 13 steals. In the outfield, Camp made 18 putouts.
Wesselink stepped up to hit .313 with three doubles, two triples, 13 runs, eight RBI and six steals. Playing primarily at shortstop, Wesselink recorded 32 putouts and 26 assists.
Caple posted a .350 batting average with six doubles and 15 RBI. At catcher, Caple threw out five base runners and totaled 225 putouts and 16 assists.
Senior Megan Ritter hit .247 with five doubles, one triple, 24 runs and a team-best 18 steals from the leadoff spot in the order. In center field, Ritter made 19 putouts, two assists and only one error.
Seniors Heather Jessen and Veronica Condon, and sophomore Mikayla Markley also saw double-figure at-bats for CMB during the season.
Heather Jessen recorded a .316 OBP with two doubles and runs and RBI apiece. She also tallied 11 putouts and two assists in the field.
Condon hit .226 with six RBI and she made 51 putouts, one assists and only two errors defensively. Markley had a .316 OBP with one run and two RBI and she picked up six putouts and three assists in the field.
Freshman Trinity Stover scored 11 runs and Emma Husak and Emma Kahler each crossed the plate 10 times as the top courtesy runners for CMB during the season. Freshmen Abby Shepley, Angela Calkins and Jillian Holst each scored three times and Ella Kahler picked up two runs.
The CMB pitching staff gave up 97 runs and posted a staff earned-run average of 1.60 with 202 strikeouts and 40 walks in 233 ⅔ innings.
Mikayla Houge went 15-0 with an 0.97 ERA, 148 strikeouts and 21 walks in 94 innings. Kahler was 10-6 with a 2.09 ERA, 137 strikeouts and 18 walks in 97 ⅓ innings.
Sydney Schmidt finished 1-0 with a 3.23 ERA, three strikeouts and two walks in 8 ⅔ innings during her sophomore campaign. Markley also threw one inning for the Raiders.
Troy Houge said he was appreciative of the final senior class in CMB history. Abbey Kahler, Eslinger, Ritter, Heather Jessen, Condon and Emily Coughenour helped take the Raiders from 11-21 during their eighth-grade season to a combined 53-15 over their last two years.
“The seniors finished their final two years with two conference titles, a fifth-place (finish) at state and over 50 wins in two years, so they are a very special group,” Troy Houge said. “I said when they were eighth-ninth graders that they would do great things if they stayed together — they did and I was right.”
“Abbey came in late, but became a huge part of our team and a tremendous leader on and off the field; Mikayla Eslinger played dinged up for a couple of years but showed how much heart she had by playing at a high level through it all (and) Megan was a great centerfielder and became a great leader as well this year,” Troy Houge said. “Heather did a little of everything for us by pitching, playing outfield and infield. She would do whatever we asked. Vern did not get to play as much as she would have liked but she was always ready when her name was called. She had numerous game-winning hits while pinch hitting. Emily Coughenour could not play because of injuries, but she was the heart and soul of this team as a manager and helped everyone on the team get better.”
Next season begins a whole new chapter for everyone as the schools split into the Baxter Bolts and Collins-Maxwell Spartans. Troy Houge will continue to coach at Collins-Maxwell and he said he is optimistic about the future of both programs.
“We will have a lot of holes to fill at both locations, but at C-M we have a good group of young girls ready to step in with the girls we have returning, so I think we will be a very solid team in 1A next year,” Troy Houge said. “We will return four girls who started for us with Mikayla (Houge), Hannah, Katie, and Abby Husak — that is a good nucleus to build around and other girls saw some time as well, so I feel good about our future.”
“On the Baxter side they have some good girls coming back with Holly and Jordynn as starters,” Troy Houge added. “There are some (other) girls who played some varsity as well returning, so they will have a solid group next year.”