FORT DODGE - With the game and a state championship on the line and the ball coming her way, Collins-Maxwell’s Emma Kahler knew she had to make the play.
Collins-Maxwell was leading Clarksville by one run, and with two outs in the top of the seventh inning, Clarksville’s Janet Borchardt got a hold of a Mikayla Houge pitch and ripped a shot to left field. Borchardt had hit a two-run double in the third inning to right field and this one was a deep liner that looked like it could be trouble.
But Kahler had the ball played almost perfectly. She moved over a couple steps and snared the ball to secure a 4-3 victory that gave the Spartans their second-straight Class 1A state championship.
“The grass was wet and I was like ‘don’t slip, don’t slip,”’ Kahler said.“I knew I could play a few steps back and keep everything in front of me. I took three steps to it and caught it. It was awesome — I was going to throw everything (in the air), but I just ran to the team.”
Collins-Maxwell trailed 3-2 going into the bottom of the sixth inning after giving up a run in the sixth when Clarksville’s Bailey Myers singled in Emma Poppe with two outs. But Kahler lead off the Spartan half of the sixth by reaching on an error, and Houge followed with a big single to center.
The ball got by Myers in center field, allowing Kahler to trot home with the tying score as Houge made her way to second.
“After I gave up that run, I wanted to be the person to help my team out,” Houge said. “My dad (Spartan head coach Troy Houge) thought about bunting, but I’ve been hitting the ball pretty well in this tournament and I had confidence and he had confidence in me. I knew if I got a pitch I’d be able to get our runner in position.”
Courtesy runner Avery Fricke made her way to third with one out. Reagan Franzen then hit a deep sacrifice fly to left field, scoring Fricke with the eventual winning run.
“Coach gave me a choice — sacrifice bunt or sacrifice fly,” Franzen said. “Thank goodness I chose sac fly.”
With the victory, Collins-Maxwell finished 28-1 after going 30-1 in its inaugural season last year.
“Nothing can beat the feeling of being state champs, especially back-to-back,” Houge said. “It wasn’t easy this year. We had to grind out this win. To do it again is a great feeling.”
Last season, Collins-Maxwell took the title without giving up a run the entire state tournament behind the brilliant pitching of Houge. This year, the Spartans showed they were a complete team, with several players stepping up with key hits and defensive plays.
“We’ll give up some runs if we still win,” Troy Houge said. “We don’t care how we get the title. Clarksville came after us and really pushed us. But the girls never say die. They know they’re going to win.”
Collins-Maxwell shot out to a 2-0 lead when Alexis Houge led off the bottom of the first with a bunt single, stole two bases and scored on a bunt single by Kahler. Mikayla Houge also got a hit and Hannah Caple drove in Kahler on a ground out.
Clarksville tied the game in the third on Borchardt’s hit, and threatened to take the lead in the fourth by putting runners on first and second with two outs. Cheyenne Behrends hit a single to left for the Indians and lead runner Chloe Ross was sent home on the play.
But Franzen got a glove on the ball, Alexis Houge picked it up and gunned Ross down with a rocket throw to Caple, who had the plate blocked perfectly when Ross slid for home.
Alexis Houge was 1-for-3 with four steals and a run at the plate. Kahler ended up 1-for-3 with two runs and Mikayla Houge went 2-for-2.
Mikayla Houge gave up three runs on eight hits with 10 strikeouts and two walks as the winning pitcher. She was named the 1A all-tournament team captain for the second time.
Alexis Houge and Caple were also all-tournament selections for the second year in a row.
Clarksville finished 33-2 — both losses coming to Collins-Maxwell. Indian pitcher Kori Wedeking allowed four runs — two earned — on four hits with two strikeouts and one walk.
The Indians were hurt by five errors on defense. Berends went 3-for-4 with one run to pace Clarksville offensively and Borchardt, Myers, Ross, Emma Poppe and Cailyn Hardy each tallied one hit.
Collins-Maxwell 4, Clarksville 3
C 002 001 0 - 3 8 5
CM 200 002 X - 4 4 1
C: Kori Wedeking and Ainsley Lovrien.
CM: Mikayla Houge and Hannah Caple.
2B: C - Janet Borchardt.