Ballard scores 4-0 victory in big showdown at Huxley

HUXLEY – A little wake up call was exactly what the Ballard softball team needed when the Bombers took on top-ranked Winterset in a battle between two Heart of Iowa Conference powers June 26 in Huxley.

The Bombers, rated fifth in Class 4A, were coming off by far their worst performance of the season; a 6-2 loss to Roland-Story the night before in a game where Ballard committed eight errors to end its eight-game winning streak.

The next day saw Ballard do a complete 180-degree turn and produce its best outing of the season against Winterset.

The Bomber defensive effort was absolutely flawless, Kenzie Ihle threw a no-hitter on the mound and Brooke Mallon and Annie Stolte joined Ihle in picking up clutch hits. The end result saw Ballard hand Winterset a 4-0 setback to earn its second victory over a No. 1 team in nine days.

"I don’t think it’s any coincidence this happened right after Roland-Story," Mallon said. "You get a kick in the pants and the taste of losing; we didn’t like it, so we spit it out really fast."

Ballard also defeated then No. 1 Dallas Center-Grimes by a 1-0 score June 17 in Dallas Center.

Stolte was the spark plug for Ballard, both defensively and at the plate against Winterset.

In the very first at-bat of the game, Stolte made a nice play on a grounder by Winterset’s Chelsie Benshoof to get the out at first. That play immediately inspired confidence in the Ballard defense, and as the game went on, it became clear the Roland-Story debacle was already a distant memory.

Stolte was also responsible for Ballard’s first run.

In the bottom of the third inning, Ballard caught a break when a two-out grounder by Ellie Godwin went through the legs of Winterset second baseman Briley Tryon. Godwin went on to steal second and then Stolte stepped up and ripped 2-2 pitch by Winterset ace hurler Karly Olson into left field for a single.

Stolte’s hit easily scored the speedy Godwin from second to give Ballard a 1-0 lead.

"Annie’s defense in the first inning, and then a big two-strike RBI just kind of set the tone," Ballard head coach Staci Sniezek said. "After that we kept shutting them down."

Ihle retired the first 12 batters she faced before issuing a leadoff walk to the Huskies’ Savannah Marker in the top of the fifth inning. Marker moved to second on a sacrifice bunt and then took third on a ground out to second base.

Then with two outs, the Huskies’ Kylie McDonald stepped up and hit a sharp grounder up the middle.

Bomber second baseman Alex Petersen was able to move over and make a great stop. With one knee on the ground, Petersen quickly fired the ball over to Katie Ahrenholtz at first to get McDonald in time for the final out with no damage done.

Ihle retired Winterset in order in the top of the sixth to maintain Ballard’s slim 1-0 lead. In the bottom of the inning, Mallon delivered the biggest hit of the game to give her team some much-needed breathing room.

Sydney Fisher led off the bottom of the sixth with a bunt single for Ballard’s third hit off Olson. Mallon then came up and Sniezek was thinking of having her bunt Fisher over.

But the Bomber coach nixed that plan, in part to a pre-game prediction from Ihle. It turned out to be the right call on Sniezek’s part as Mallon got a hold of an Olson pitch at the perfect spot and pulled a monster shot to left field.

The ball cleared the fence with ease to give Ballard a three-run cushion.

"We got to talking during batting practice in the cage, Kenzie was feeding Brooke and she said, ‘I feel it tonight – you’re going to hit one out,"’ Sniezek said. "Kenzie said to me, ‘I’ve called (Mallon’s two previous home runs) so far.’ I looked at the scoreboard in the sixth and thought, if Kenzie’s prediction is right we better not bunt. It’s just quirky how that all works together."

Mallon has proven to be Winterset’s biggest nightmare when they travel to Huxley as the Bomber catcher hit a walk-off home run to beat the Huskies in a 1-0 game last year.

"I never go out to have the mindset of getting a big hit, they just fall," Mallon said. "I like helping my team. I know they were going to do their part, I just had to follow through with mine."

Ballard wasn’t done with the long ball after Mallon’s clutch blast. Ihle followed by hitting a solo shot of her own – this time over the fence in right field.

With a 4-0 lead Ballard was sitting pretty going into the seventh, and the Bomber defense made sure to finish the job. Third baseman Sheridan Gealow made a great play on a slap bunt by Winterset’s Macy Johnson to get the first out, and then Ihle forced Olson to ground out to Stolte at shortstop for the second out.

Marker gave the Huskies a glimmer of hope when she drew another walk with two outs, but Ihle struck out Bryce Bowman to complete the no-hit shutout.

"When you have a good defense behind you it’s easier to pitch," Ihle said. "I knew that even though we had a tough game last night, we’d just forget about it and play how we’re supposed to play."

Ihle finished with four strikeouts and two walks. After a night where nothing went right versus Roland-Story, the Bombers were error-free versus Winterset.

The home runs from Mallon and Ihle and the singles by Stolte, Petersen and Fisher accounted for all five Ballard hits. Ahrenholtz also walked once.

The victory put Ballard at 19-6 on the season and the Bombers improved to 9-3 in the RRC to stay right in the thick of the conference race.

"It’s exciting to be in a conference race this time of year," Sniezek said. "It’s there for the taking."

Winterset dropped to 26-6 and 9-4 respectively. The walks to Marker accounted for the only Winterset base runners all game, and Olson finished with 10 strikeouts in a losing effort.

Ballard 4, Winterset 0

W 000 000 0 – 0 0 1

B 001 003 X – 4 5 0

W: Karly Olson and Kylie McDonald

B: Kenzie Ihle and Brooke Mallon

WP: Ihle

LP: Olson

HR: B – Ihle, Mallon