FORT DODGE - This time, the early fireworks weren’t enough for Ballard.
Just as in its previous two games at the state softball tournament against Carlisle and Charles City, Ballard raced out to a quick lead over Winterset in the Class 4A championship game Friday on the Buena Vista Diamond at the Rogers Sports Complex in Fort Dodge.
But the No. 2 Huskies became the first team at state that refused to buckle against the No. 4 Bombers’ early offensive surge. Winterset scored five unanswered runs over the final six innings to hand Ballard a 5-2 loss and claim the 4A state title.
“They’re a very good team — they’re here for a reason,” Ballard head softball coach Charlie Husak said of Winterset. “We just came up short today.”
Abby Carlin provided Ballard with a big early jolt by smashing a two-run homer over the fence in center field after Skylar Rigby hit a leadoff single in the top of the first inning. Ballard kept Winterset off the board in the bottom of the inning, but an explosive Husky attack couldn’t be contained for long.
Winterset tied the game in the bottom of the second inning. Grace McDonald hit a leadoff double, then Natalie Hansen — the No. 8 hitter in the batting order — connected on an one-out double to put the Huskies on the board.
Carlin forced Mariah White to fly out to shortstop for the second out of the inning and Husak then elected to intentionally walk Winterset leadoff hitter Macy Johnson. Carlin forced the next Husky batter — Ally Pickering — to hit a short fly ball, but an error on the play allowed Hansen to trot home with the tying score.
In the bottom of the fourth Winterset struck again. Mia Olson hit a leadoff single, then Hansen came up clutch again, this time sending a long fly ball over the fence in center field to put the Huskies up 4-2.
Winterset added another run two batters later when Johnson tripled to right field and eventually scored on the hit after a Bomber throwing error.
“There were a couple differences,” Husak said. “Their seven, eight and nine (batters) did a very good job of getting on base and creating some things and we made a couple mistakes in the field and it cost us a couple runs.”
The Bomber offense was also having problems after the first inning, finishing with only two hits over the final six frames against Winterset ace Sophie Stover.
Ballard’s best chance to do some damage came in the fifth. Isabella Johnson singled, Rigby drew a one-out walk and Rachel Newell sacrificed the runners over to put runners on second and third with two outs with the always-dangerous Carlin coming to the plate. But Stover forced Carlin into a groundout to get out of the jam.
The Bombers also put runners on the corners with one out in the sixth. But Stover fanned the next two Bomber hitters to keep her team’s three-run lead intact.
Ballard’s last-ditch effort in the seventh saw Newell reach on an error with two outs, but Stover again forced Carlin to ground out to end the game and give the Huskies the championship.
Winterset finished 35-7 and redeemed itself after placing second in 4A two years ago. Ballard ended up 35-6, nearly doubling its win total from a year ago
With only three seniors between the two teams, Ballard and Winterset could very well go up each other on the big stage again in 2018.
“I’m excited for what we have for next year,” Newell said. “I’m ready to bring it on already.”
The runner-up finish enabled Ballard to draw a lot of eyeballs its way in 2017. The Bombers were coming off a losing campaign in 2016, and made their remarkable turnaround with only two seniors in Carlin and Jenna Moody.
“I think we were the hardest-working team,” Moody said. “We were up everyday at 6:30 a.m. putting in the reps. It paid off; we just fell a little short.”
Carlin allowed three earned runs on nine hits with with four strikeouts and two walks against Winterset. Isabell Hobbs and Isabella Johnson each joined Carlin and Rigby in picking up one hit for the Bombers.
Stover gave up two earned runs on four hits and walks apiece with three strikeouts in seven innings to get the win. Hansen went 2-for-3 with three RBI and Johnson was 3-for-3 with one run to pace Winterset offensively.
Winterset 5, Ballard 2
B 200 000 0 - 2 4 2
W 020 300 X - 5 9 1
B: Abby Carlin and Skylar Rigby.
W: Sophie Stover and Emma Lowden.
2B: W - Natalie Hansen, Grace McDonald.
3B: W - Macy Johnson.
HR: B - Carlin. W - Hansen.