Tremendous enthusiasm and dedication combined with a lot of young talent to make 2017 one of the most successful seasons in Ballard softball history.
With a starting lineup featuring one eighth-grader, four freshmen, three sophomores and just two seniors, Ballard went 35-6 overall and 12-2 in the Raccoon River Conference. The 35 wins matched the school record set by the 2012 team that won the Class 3A state championship.
The Bombers placed second in the RRC. In the postseason, they went on to claim a 4A regional championship and make it all the way to the state title game.
In the 4A state championship game, Ballard fell to the same team that beat the Bombers out for the RRC title — Winterset. But the loss couldn’t take away from a magical season that has the potential to springboard Ballard into becoming one of the elite programs in 4A.
“Ballard softball represented Ballard High School and the Ballard community with a lot of humility and selflessness,” Husak said. “It was an honor to have the opportunity to be a part of this 2017 Bomber team. This was a blue collar group of girls that just worked harder every day. They never had excuses.”
Husak took over the program this season after serving as an assistant last year.
Prior to last season, he had coached a Central Iowa All-Star Little League All-Stars 12-and-under team, featuring six current Bombers, in 2015. That team went on an amazing ride of its own, taking third at the Little League World Series.
Having six players with that outstanding Little League experience paid huge dividends for the Ballard softball program in 2017.
“The girls bought into the culture of winning and what winning programs do and don’t do,” first-year Ballard head softball coach Charlie Husak said. “The RRC has many examples of proven programs. So it was easy to tell the girls if they want success, do this…if you don’t want it, then don’t do it. They wanted it and we had many girls that were all in.”
The Bomber coach also credited his assistant coaches — Kenzie Ihle and Katie Irwin — the Ballard High School administration and the Bomber community for helping make the season such a huge success.
“Ballard boosters never said no to help the program and culture,” Husak said. “The custodial staff put up with early morning workouts and requests. Our AD office was probably sick of seeing me walk through the doors. The Ballard coaching staff was very supportive. The coaches and girls worked hard. It was a very good start to establishing the work ethic it will take to keep the program consistently at a high level.”
Ballard had a couple of hiccups early in the season before really establishing itself.
The Bombers opened with wins over Pella, Norwalk and Ankeny, and then lost to Dallas Center-Grimes and North Polk. But then Ballard ran off 11 consecutive victories to enter the 4A rankings, and never looked back.
On May 29 Ballard whipped BCLUW and Denver at the BCLUW Invite. The Bombers went on to down Carroll, Carlisle, Bondurant-Farrar, Boone, Perry and get a huge win over Winterset in RRC games during the streak; they also topped Woodbury Central, Okoboji and BCLUW at the Ballard Festival.
Carlisle, Boone, Perry and Winterset were all ranked in 4A when Ballard took them down.
Ankeny Centennial ended Ballard’s winning streak during the Tiger Invitational in Adel June 9. Ballard also defeated Van Meter and ranked Sergeant Bluff-Luton and Colfax-Mingo teams at Adel.
The Bombers edged ADM in conference play June 12 and then suffered their first RRC loss against Carroll. Ballard topped Gilbert, Nevada, Ames and South Hamilton at the Kiwanis Invitational and completed season sweeps of Boone and Carlisle in conference games as part of its second 11-game winning streak of the season.
The streak also included victories over Glenwood, Albia, Prairie City-Monroe, Bondurant-Farrar and Roland-Story. It came to an end with a 3-2 loss at home to Winterset in 10 innings June 28.
The regular season ended with Ballard defeating Perry and ADM.
Ballard received a bye to open 4A regional competition. In the semifinals, the Bombers dominated old rival Nevada, 18-0, and in the finals they handled Denison-Schleswig by a 7-0 score to advance to state for the first time in five years.
At state, Ballard faced a familiar foe in Carlisle during the 4A quarterfinals. They achieved the rare feat of beating the traditional state power three times in a season with an 11-5 victory over the Wildcats.
On July 20 Ballard toppled Charles City by a 6-1 score to reach the state championship game. There, Ballard was unable to revive its 2012 success, falling by a 5-2 score.
“We started off strong, but we ended even stronger,” Husak said. “We got better as the season continued. There was no letup by the girls and they practiced harder and harder each morning and pregame. That mindset stayed through Fort Dodge.”
Ballard was potent in all phases of play.
On offense, the Bombers scored 298 runs, hitting .359 with a .436 on-base percentage, .520 slugging average, 77 doubles, five triples, 29 home runs, 137 walks and 80 steals in 86 attempts. Among 4A teams, Ballard ranked second in walks, fourth in runs, fifth in OBP and home runs, eighth in slugging average and batting average and ninth in doubles.
The Bomber pitching staff gave up just 81 runs with a 1.22 earned-run average, 268 strikeouts and just 26 walks in 257 ⅔ innings. Ballard led 4A in fewest walks allowed, ranked second in ERA and eighth in strikeouts.
The Ballard defense fielded at a .933-percent clip with 768 putouts, 278 assists and 75 errors in 1,121 chances.
Catcher Skylar Rigby, second baseman Isabell Hobbs, first baseman Maggie Larson, shortstop Isabella Johnson, center fielder Carley Wilson and reserve Maddie Kyhl formed the young core of Bomber players who participated in the Little League World Series two years ago. Wilson was an eighth-grader this season and the rest were freshmen.
Rigby and Hobbs were both named all-state. Larson was picked to the all-RRC second team and Johnson made all-conference honorable mention.
Rigby hit .410 with a .535 OBP, .697 SA, 31 walks, 51 runs, 27 RBI, 14 steals, 21 doubles, one triple and four home runs as a first-team all-state performer in 4A. Behind the plate, she threw out one base runner, picked up 14 assists and only made four errors.
Hobbs made third-team all-state after hitting .390 with a .426 OBP, .610 SA, 11 doubles, two triples, four home runs, 12 sacrifices, 10 walks, six steals, 37 runs and 42 RBI. In the field she recorded 52 assists and 50 putouts against eight errors.
Larson was Ballard’s top power hitter as she belted 12 home runs and seven doubles and hit .319 with a .690 SA, 26 runs and 39 RBI. Defensively, Larson only made two errors and racked up 237 assists and 12 putouts.
Johnson came on late offensively to hit .433 with a .452 OBP, .467 SA, two doubles, five steals, 16 runs and nine RBI. At shortstop, she recorded a team-high 84 assists and added 41 putouts.
Wilson posted a .308 batting average and .419 OBP with two doubles, five steals and 15 runs in 26 at-bats. In the field she recorded 17 putouts and two assists with only one error.
Kyhl scored 19 runs and stole 10 bases as Ballard’s top courtesy runner during the season.
Third baseman Rachel Newell, left fielder Karlee Ahrenholtz and pitcher/designated hitter Hannah Elliott formed a talented sophomore trio as part of Ballard’s outstanding young roster. Newell and Ahrenholtz were both named to the all-RRC second team and Elliott made all-conference honorable mention.
Newell hit .365 with a .475 OBP, .426 SA, 21 walks, a team-high 20 steals, four doubles, one home run, 40 runs and nine RBI. In the field, she produced 31 assists and 30 putouts.
Ahrenholtz delivered a .347 batting average, .466 OBP, .411 SA, three doubles, one home run, 18 walks and 16 RBI. She also made 45 putouts on defense.
Elliott hit .292 with four doubles, eight sacrifices and 17 RBI. She went 10-1 on the mound, ranking first in 4A with an ERA of 0.91 and striking out 45 with only nine walks in 69 ⅓ innings.
Sophomores Kiersten McKinney and Katie Sydnes were top performers off the bench for Ballard.
McKinney hit .472 with a .500 SA, one double, five steals and 11 runs in 36 at bats. Sydnes tallied a .417 OBP with four RBI in 18 at-bats.
Junior Kate Rietz was also a quality reserve. She recorded 13 runs, five hits, three steals, two putouts and one assist.
Sophomore Megan Hadaway hit .571 with three RBI in seven at-bats and Piper Johnson registered a .368 batting average with four RBI in 19 at-bats. Eighth-grader Molly Houge made five putouts defensively.
As talented and deep as Ballard’s group of underclassmen were, the senior duo of pitcher Abby Carlin and right fielder Jenna Moody were the team’s backbone.
Carlin made first-team all-state. After taking last year off to play AAU, Carlin emerged as one of the most dominant pitchers in 4A this summer.
Carlin went 23-11, ranked third in ERA among 4A pitchers at 1.34 and sixth in strikeouts with 223 against only 17 walks in 188 ⅓ innings. She also was outstanding with the stick, hitting .421 with a .503 OBP, .694 SA, 13 doubles, one triple, six home runs, 19 walks, 18 runs and 47 RBI.
“Abby Carlin is a (Division 1) pitcher and D1 pitchers do what Abby did for us,” Husak said. “Abby hid a lot of our youth. She is a great kid and leads by example and always with a smile. But it’s fun to see her get mad and compete. She can flip the switch and find that extra gear. That’s what makes her special and will make her successful in everything she does.”
Moody was the quintessential team leader for Ballard. She produced a .282 OBP, .353 SA, eight doubles, one triple, one home run, 18 runs, 14 RBI, six sacrifices, three steals, 28 putouts and two assists.
“Jenna Moody took on multiple roles for us this year from the start of the season to the end of the season,” Husak said. “She always did what was asked and what was best for the team. She did it as a leader and as an example for players to come.”
“Her age and experience were especially important for us during the postseason,” Husak said. “She was tough and understood what our younger players needed as the games kept getting bigger.”
Ballard will sorely miss the production and leadership provided by Carlin and Moody. But with so much talent, depth and versatility returning, the Bombers figure to be a major force in the RRC and 4A for years to come.
“Hannah will lead our pitching staff that will be very young still behind her — she works as hard as anyone in our program and will pick up where Abby left off,” Husak said. “Defensively, we will be strong. Many girls return but there were many girls on our ninth and JV teams that were not far away from varsity playing time. It will be fun to watch the girls push each other.”