Collins-Maxwell couldn’t have scripted a better inaugural season as an Iowa high school softball program in 2018.
The Spartans made history by winning the Class 1A state championship in their first season of existence. They went undefeated in the Iowa Star Conference, going 15-0 to win the South Division championship, and ended up with the best overall record in the entire state at 30-1.
“It was the kind of season a coach dreams of,” Collins-Maxwell head softball coach Troy Houge said. “These girls impressed me every day with the way they conducted themselves on and off the field. The other thing that really impressed me was how our community rallied around the team. Our fans were awesome all season.”
Collins-Maxwell was blessed with a talented trio of Collins-Maxwell-Baxter holdovers to build around.
Sophomore pitcher Mikayla Houge — Troy’s daughter — her battery mate Hannah Caple and center fielder Katie Camp — the team’s only senior — were all part of CMB’s fifth-place finish at state in 3A two years ago. They each received all-state honors in 2018.
But with only three positions filled, that still left several holes in the lineup entering the season. It turned out to be a huge blessing in disguise as the new players adapted quickly and displayed tremendous camaraderie, going above and beyond what Troy Houge expected.
“(It was) a team that played together and for each other,” Troy Houge said. “They had chemistry and did not care who got accolades, because they all knew that anyone could come up with the big hit or big defensive play. They had fun playing together. It really came down to every girl wanted to succeed for their team, and some girls really took it to another level by helping the young girls develop at a rate I had not seen before.”
Eighth-grader Alexis Houge, the younger sister of Mikayla, turned in a first-team all-state season taking over at shortstop and freshman Reagan Franzen transferred from North Polk to gave Collins-Maxwell an all-state third baseman. Sophomores Olivia Pasquariello and Brailyn Tankersley filled in nicely at both second and first base to round out a formidable Spartan infield.
In the outfield, Camp moved over from left field to center field and ended up a third-team all-state selection.
The Kahler twins — Ella and Emma — took over at right and left field respectively. Ella joined Caple and Franzen in being named all-state honorable mention after the season concluded.
Junior Hanah Jurgens also helped out at first base, sophomore Trinity Stover was the team’s top courtesy runner and eighth-grader Avery Fricke was also a big weapon on the base paths.
On offense, Collins-Maxwell finished with 262 runs, hitting .411 as a team with a .489 on-base percentage and .554 slugging average as a team. The Spartans totaled 54 doubles, five triples, 15 home runs and 109 walks against 73 strikeouts, and they were outstanding on the bases, recording 130 steals in 135 attempts.
Collins-Maxwell led 1A in slugging average and ranked second in both batting average and OBP as a team. The Spartans also came in eighth in home runs and 10th in steals.
“I thought we would be a good offensive team and the girls exceeded my expectations there,” Troy Houge said. “We hit more home runs than I thought we would. We stole a lot of bases as well. That is a good combination to have.”
In the field, Collins-Maxwell finished eighth in 1A for fielding percentage at .951. The Spartans had 528 putouts and 125 assists against 34 errors in 687 chances.
“Only having two players play the same position as last year and only three starters back, we knew we would have to work on defense and they stepped up in a big way this year,” Troy Houge said. “I did not think they would be as good on defense as early as they were. I figured we would have to get used to each other out there, but they started the season playing well and really did not slow down.”
The Houge sisters, Camp, Franzen and Caple were the cornerstones to Collins-Maxwell’s success at the plate and in the field during the season. They all hit over .400 and provided tremendous defense.
Alexis Houge got everything going for Collins-Maxwell from the leadoff spot in the batting order.
Alexis hit .600 with a .631 OBP, .780 slugging average, seven doubles, four triples, one home run, 48 runs and 27 RBIs and she was a perfect 51 of 51 on steal attempts. Alexis easily led 1A in batting average and also was the leader in OBP and she finished third in total steals.
“Alexis was our spark on offense,” Troy Houge said. “When she got on base, our offense really did well. She led our team most offensive categories.”
In the field, Alexis made 29 putouts and 23 assists with only four errors.
“Defensively, she was a great shortstop for us,” Troy Houge said. “Her range allowed her to get to a lot of balls that would have been base hits for most teams.”
Mikayla was Collins-Maxwell’s top power hitter, finishing with 14 doubles, one triple, four home runs, 40 RBIs and an .847 slugging average. She also hit .518 with 17 walks and a .590 OBP.
Mikayla had 33 assists and 12 putouts with just two errors fielding the ball at pitcher.
Camp was outstanding batting second in the order. She hit .447 with a .528 OBP, .461 slugging average, 29 steals, 12 walks, 11 sacrifices, one double, 32 runs and 16 RBIs.
In the outfield, Camp only needed to make four putouts all season.
“Katie stepped up for us this year,” Troy Houge said. “I asked her to switch to center field and she made the move with ease. She is one of the most selfless players I have ever coached. She always did what the team needed — whether it was to put down a bunt to move runners or pop it through the infield for a hit. She worked with our young slappers and helped them improve.”
Franzen made a great first impression with Collins-Maxwell by posting a .446 batting average with a .490 OBP, .674 slugging average, 12 doubles, three home runs, 24 runs and 31 RBIs. At third base, she had 24 assists and 17 putouts.
“Reagan stepped up at third for us this year,” Troy Houge said. “She had a great season in her first year with C-M. She can pitch, has a strong arm and a powerful bat.”
Caple was a steady leader all year behind the plate and batting in the cleanup spot of the order.
In her junior season, Caple hit .420 with a .495 OBP and .545 slugging average. She connected on eight doubles and one home run, walked 10 times and drove in 31 runs.
Caple recorded a team-best .991 fielding average with only three errors in 337 chances. She threw out six base runners in 16 attempts and finished with 315 putouts and 19 assists.
“Hannah Caple had a lot to do with the leadership on the team,” Troy Houge said. “She was a rock behind the plate and really kept our defense calm and relaxed. Hannah and Mikayla have been working together for so long that they knew exactly what they needed to do out there without saying anything.”
The Kahler twins and Tankersley all hit over .300 on the season. They were also steady contributors in the field.
Ella Kahler delivered a .371 batting average, .406 OBP, .506 slugging average, three home runs, three doubles, 19 runs and 25 RBIs on offense. She made eight putouts and had an impressive six assists in right field.
“Ella Kahler also played well and had a cannon in right field,” Troy Houge said. “She made some great plays out there and had a good bat for us as well.”
Emma hit .317 with a .462 OBP, .333 slugging average, 15 steals, one double, 34 runs and nine RBIs as a productive hitter from the ninth spot in the order. In left field, she recorded 11 putouts and three assists with only one error.
“Emma Kahler was in a battle early for left field and came on and earned the spot this year,” Troy Houge said. “She was solid for us and was very good hitting in the No. 9 spot.”
Tankersley tallied a .308 batting average, .439 OBP, .538 slugging average, three homers, three doubles, 10 walks and 15 RBIs. At first base she made 79 putouts and one assist.
“Brailyn also had to battle for her spot,” Troy Houge said. “She did a great job and hit some monster home runs for us.”
Pasquariello hit .219 with a .345 OBP, .274 slugging average, four doubles, 13 walks, 17 runs and seven RBIs. At second base she came up with 16 assists and 14 putouts with only three errors.
“Olivia really stepped up as the year went on,” Troy Houge said. “She had a great state tournament at second and had some good hits at the end of the year.”
Jurgens hit .28 with a .419 OBP, one double and four RBIs in 25 at-bats. Stover had a .375 OBP in 12 at-bats and she finished with 34 runs and 13 steals in 14 chances.
Fricke scored 19 runs and swiped six bases in six attempts.
Pitching is usually the key to championship runs and there was no better hurler in 1A than Mikayla Houge. Mikayla helped Collins-Maxwell allow fewer runs than any team in the entire state at 22, and the Spartan pitchers had a state-best staff ERA of 0.44, with 323 strikeouts and only 37 walks and eight hit batsmen in 176 innings.
“We knew we would be good on the mound and all of our pitchers did a nice job with three different pitchers getting a win on the year,” Troy Houge said.
Mikayla went 28-1 with an 0.42 ERA, 316 strikeouts and 35 walks in 168 innings. She had the second-best ERA in the state and tops among 1A teams, delivered the second-best opponent batting average in Iowa at .108 and was also rated No. 2 in 1A and fifth in the state for strikeouts.
“Mikayla had a great year and was a driving force for our team,” Troy Houge said. “She received a lot of honors and deserved all of them for the hard work she has put in through the years. The best thing is, she would rather help her team any way she can than to receive any honors.”
Franzen was 1-0 with a 1.40 ERA, six strikeouts and two walks in five innings and Ella Kahler posted a 1-0 record in three innings without giving up a run and striking out one with no walks.
Collins-Maxwell’s only blemish all season came at the hands of ranked 3A program Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont by a 4-1 score at the Oskaloosa Invitational on June 16. Other than that, the Spartans were golden, finishing the regular season ranked No. 2 in 1A behind Kee.
In non-conference play, Collins-Maxwell took down Nevada (8-0), Gilbert (11-1), BCLUW (6-0), Benton Community (2-0), Saydel (10-0), Wayne (7-1), AHSTW (10-1) and Grand View Christian (10-0), with the latter two wins coming at the Collins-Maxwell Invitational. The Spartans’ biggest non-conference win was a 3-1 win over Des Moines Christian team that ended up placing third at state in 2A.
In ISC competition, Collins-Maxwell swept GMG (12-0, 16-2), Colo-NESCO (8-0, 12-0), Baxter (5-1, 11-0) and CAL (16-0, 14-0) and earned a 16-0 win over North Tama in South Division play.
Against North Division competition, the Spartans upended a Clarksville team that ended up No. 5 in 1A by the end of the regular season, 1-0, and a Janesville team that qualified for state, 4-3. Collins-Maxwell also whipped Riceville (10-0), Dunkerton (13-1), Don Bosco (11-2) and Tripoli (15-1).
“We were used to playing in a conference that had a set schedule and not very long trips and we went to a schedule where we played varsity first sometimes and had a lot more travel, so it took some getting used to,” Troy Houge said. “The level of play varied as well, so we had to adjust to playing some teams who were young and inexperienced to some good teams with coaches who have had a lot of success. Overall, it went well for us with the 15-0 record and conference championship so I think we adjusted well.”
In 1A regional play, Collins-Maxwell opened up with a 12-0 quarterfinal win over Stanton, then blanked Coon Rapids-Bayard by a 4-0 score. That put the Spartans in the finals, where they outlasted a gutsy Glidden-Ralston team, 7-4, to advance to state.
At state, Collins-Maxwell became the first-ever 1A team not to give up a run.
The Spartans trounced Newell-Fonda, 5-0, in the quarterfinals, then won a 1-0 battle with No. 9 Lisbon in the semifinals to reach the championship game against No. 4 AGWSR. In the title game, Collins-Maxwell got all three of its hits in the bottom of the seventh inning, with a Caple single driving in Camp with the winning run in a 1-0 victory to give the Spartans the title.
“Winning the state tournament is the biggest (highlight), especially how we did it,” Troy Houge said. “I said that game was an instant classic and I truly believe that. To win a championship game, 1-0, and not have a base runner until the seventh inning is quite a feat. Going through the state tournament and not giving up a run is also quite an accomplishment.”
Another state championship could be in the cards for Collins-Maxwell in 2019. It will be tough to replace Camp next year, but the Spartans have the weapons and experience coming back to make a run at repeating.
“It will not be easy,” Troy Houge said. “Most of the teams at state were young and we will have a big target on us. We will have to work even harder than we did this year to stay on top. If our girls accept that challenge and stay hungry — we will be right there again next year with a chance to repeat.”