Having an overpowering Division 1 recruit at pitcher will get a team far in Iowa high school softball.
Adding a speedster at the top of the batting order that can literally win games using just her legs makes that team an even tougher out.
Junior pitching ace Mikayla Houge and her younger sister Alexis garner most of the opposing team’s attention when scouting Collins-Maxwell. Rightfully so — they are both first-team all-state performers.
But what made Collins-Maxwell’s second Class 1A state championship so special was how much it got out of everyone else in the lineup.
“That’s one thing about our team — everybody can step up at any moment,” Collins-Maxwell senior catcher Hannah Caple said. “Everybody got it done.”
Caple was last year’s hero after hitting game-winning single in a 1-0 championship-game win over AGWSR.
This year Caple was again up to the task of making timely plays for her team. So was everyone else in the Spartan dugout.
Caple drove in two big runs in the sixth inning during Collins-Maxwell’s 4-0 quarterfinal win over Gehlen Catholic on July 22, and knocked in two more runs in a 9-1 semifinal victory over Newell-Fonda two days later.
Emma Kahler was 1-for-2 with one run and RBI apiece plus two steals versus Gehlen Catholic, and she doubled and scored versus Newell-Fonda. Her twin sister Ella doubled and scored twice in the Newell-Fonda victory.
The Kahler twins’ outfield mate — center fielder Trinity Stover — made two great running catches versus Gehlen Catholic and picked up one run and RBI apiece versus Newell-Fonda. Sophomore third baseman Reagan Franzen was all over every bunt that came her way, and she singled and scored versus Newell-Fonda and picked up one hit against Gehlen Catholic.
First baseman Brailyn Tankersley went 2-for-3 with an RBI versus Newell-Fonda and was steady defensively the whole tournament. Olivia Pasquariello gobbled up everything in front of her at second base — recording two assists and putouts apiece.
Courtesy runners Avery Fricke, Jane’e Jones, Carrie Baldwin and Kenzi Wierson combined to score five runs and steal four bases.
Senior reserve Hanah Jurgens knocked in a run in her only appearance at the plate in the victory over Newell-Fonda.
“Everyone is capable of making those plays,” Emma Kahler said. “I think it’s great that they all (stepped) up and we were all-in and ready to go.”
Last year, Mikayla Houge made life easy for her teammates by throwing a shutout in all three state tournament games. During the Spartans’ 4-3 championship game victory over Clarksville on July 25, she needed her teammates to come through on multiple occasions.
Emma Kahler drove in Alexis Houge on a bunt single and Caple had an RBI groundout to give Collins-Maxwell an early 2-0 lead. Clarksville rallied to go in front by a 3-2 score in the top of the sixth, but the Spartans simply regrouped and responded in the bottom of the inning.
In the bottom of the sixth, Emma Kahler reached on an error and scored the tying run on a ball hit by Mikayla Houge. Fricke came into run for Houge and she made her way home for the eventual winning run on a sacrifice fly from Franzen.
On defense, Franzen, Alexis Houge and Caple teamed up to make a huge play in the fourth inning off a ball hit by Cheyenne Behrends with two runners on and two outs. Behrends was safe on a single, but Franzen deflected it at third base, Alexis picked it up and threw home to Caple in time to get Indian lead runner Chloe Ross out at the plate.
That was critical in a game that ended up being decided by only one run.
Collins-Maxwell’s overall defensive performance against Clarksville showed just how mentally tough the Spartans are.
Clarksville killed itself with five errors. The Spartans only had one, and that came on the very first at-bat of the game.
“I think it’s awesome that our defense always has Mikayla’s back,” Emma Kahler said. “Even when they were hitting the ball off her earlier, we were all able to keep the ball in front and make those routine plays.”
That is how back-to-back state championships are won.
“It really is a team effort,” Franzen said. “Everybody has tried so hard to do back-to-back (championships). It’s been really hard, but we really got in our hitting groove and have one of the best defenses in 1A. We really just proved ourselves with this state championship.”