Ihle strikes out 12, Stolte goes 3-for-4 in 4-1 win
HUXLEY – Postseason pressure was not an issue for Ballard in its Class 4A regional semifinal game with Webster City Saturday in Huxley.
The Bombers, ranked ninth in Class 4A and last year’s state champions in 3A, withstood a tense first four innings by taking advantage of a costly Lynx mistake to score three runs in the top of the fifth. After a couple errors led to a Webster City run in the bottom of the inning Ballard bounced back with a run in th,e top of the sixth to make sure the game’s momentum never left its side.
The Bombers went on to shut down the 12th-ranked Lynx the rest of the way, earning a 4-1 victory and advancing to the regional finals to take on another rated foe in 11th-ranked Waverly-Shell Rock.
"We had a lot of respect for (Webster City) and we knew it was going to be a grind-it-out game," Ballard head coach Staci Sniezek said. "We hung in there even when the board showed all zeros to the fifth. We were getting chances and getting kids on base; it was just a matter of getting timely hits."
Playing as the visiting team on its home field, Ballard (25-10) loaded the bases with one in the top of the fifth.
Pinch-hitter Gabie Doud became the sacrificial freshman to get things going in the fifth as she was hit by a pitch to start things off. Ellie Godwin bunted pinch-runner Megan Spear over to second, Annie Stolte ripped a single to left and Sydney Fisher was safe on a fielder’s choice to fill up the bases for Ballard’s Nos. 3 and 4 hitters in Brooke Mallon and Kenzie Ihle.
Lynx pitcher Kaitlyn Biere managed to get Mallon to fly out to shortstop for the second out. But Ihle followed by ripping a big single to left to plate Spear with the game’s first run.
"I knew if I just put the ball in play, something could happen," Ihle said. "As a pitcher, it’s great when your team helps you. They had to get on base to begin with and they did a good job getting on so I could hit one in."
Ballard’s big break came in the next at-bat.
Bomber second baseman Alex Petersen hit a pop fly just behind second base and Lynx shortstop Hannah Myers had a little trouble adjusting to the ball. Myers got to the ball in time, but she lost focus and dropped it; allowing two runs to cross the plate.
"Like I told the girls, it’s not always the timely hits; sometimes it’s the team that makes the first mistake," Sniezek said. "That’s what happened."
Webster City responded with a run in the bottom of the sixth with the aid of two Ballard errors. Myers reached on an error, moved to second on a grounder, stole third and scored on a botched pickoff attempt at third.
But Ballard made up for that in the top of the sixth. Ellen Huxford hit a leadoff second, moved to second on another successful bunt from Godwin and then scored when Stolte ripped a single up the middle.
"They had just scored and we wanted to get that back really bad," Stolte said. "I was in the right position to do it and I had confidence in my bat."
Stolte finished 3-for-4 with three singles and a run. She moved back to her regular leadoff spot in the order after batting second a few games to take advantage of her power, and it paid off against the Lynx.
"I just wanted to go out there and set the tone for my team," Stolte said. "I’m much more comfortable in the leadoff spot, but I’m willing to go wherever she puts me."
Ihle worked around a leadoff error and a two-out walk in the bottom of the sixth as she caught Webster City’s Erin Anderson looking on a 2-2 pitch for the third out. In the bottom of the seventh, Ihle struck out the side for the third time to sew up the victory.
"It’s really easy to get set in when I have a defense behind me that I know, no matter where I pitch it, if they do hit it we’re going to make the solid play," Ihle said.
Ihle ended up with 12 strikeouts and she gave up just one hit and two walks to earn the win. Ihle was joined by Mallon, Huxford, Petersen and Katie Ahrenholtz in picking up one hit apiece for the Bombers on offense.
Ballard’s regional final game versus Waverly-Shell Rock (33-8) will take place at 7 p.m. next Tuesday in Iowa Falls.
Webster City ended the season at 25-7. Biere tallied seven strikeouts and no walks in a losing effort and Tiffany Constable came through with the lone Lynx hit off Ihle, an infield single in the bottom of the fourth.
Ballard 4, Webster City 1
B 000 031 0 – 4 8 4
WC 000 010 0 – 1 1 3
B: Kenzie Ihle and Brooke Mallon
WC: Kaitlyn Biere and Maddie Anderson