Central Iowa All-Stars complete memorable journey

Joe Randleman
Central Iowa All-Stars complete memorable journey

It was a magical summer for the members of the Central Iowa All-Stars 12-U Little League softball team as they made history by qualifying for the Little League World Series and placing third.

The Central Iowa All-Stars - a team made up of girls from the Ballard, Collins-Maxwell-Baxter and North Polk communities - went 5-0 at state and then 6-0 at the regional tournament in Indianapolis to qualify for the World Series, becoming only the third team from Iowa ever to do so. At the World Series, the Central Iowa team turned in a stellar 5-2 record to take third and finish 16-2 overall on the season.

“I think we made it the farthest out of any Iowa team,” Central Iowa All-Stars manager Charlie Husak said. “It’s a pretty special team and it was a special time. As time goes on, we’ll recognize what we achieved and how we achieved it with a lot of class, character and integrity.”

The World Series took place from Aug. 13-19 in Portland, Ore. Central Iowa opened pool play with a 12-0 drubbing of the Illam Little League team from the Phillipines in four innings on Aug. 14.

That game saw star pitcher Mikayla Houge toss a no-hitter with 10 strikeouts and two walks. Carley Wilson went 3-for-3 with a triple, two runs and four RBI to pace the team on offense.

On Aug. 15, Central Iowa knocked off the eventual champions - the Rowan Little League team from Salisbury, N.C. - by a score of 3-1. Houge threw a two-hitter against the Rowan team with five strikeouts and one walk and also went 1-for-3 with an RBI at the plate.

The next day Central Iowa was defeated by the South Snohomish Little League team from Snohomish, Wash., by a score of 4-3.

Houge was again 1-for-3 with an RBI and Carley Wilson and Skylar Rigby both went 1-for-3 with a run in the loss. Houge gave up four runs - just one earned - on eight hits with four strikeouts and no walks in a losing effort.

Central Iowa whipped the Layritz Little League team from Victoria, B.C. (Canada) by a 7-0 score on Aug. 17. Houge had a three hitter with 11 strikeouts and no walks in six innings, Maggie Larson was 1-for-2 with two RBI and Rigby, Isabell Hobbs, Hailey Steffen and Brynna Huen each drove in a run.

Later that day, controversy arose that drew national attention and had a big effect on the Central Iowa team.

The South Snohomish team lost to the Rowan Little League team by an 8-0 score. South Snohomish was accused of throwing the game after benching starters, and having players not swinging at pitches and bunting with two strikes.

Central Iowa needed South Snohomish - already a championship round qualifier - to win or not to give up more than two runs in order to advance to the championship round.

“I was so upset I started tearing up,” said Houge, the daughter of Troy and Trisha Houge of Collins. “We thought at first we were in, but then wait - why would they let (the Rowan team) score this many runs? We all started crying on the bus and we were all so sad it was over.”

But thanks to the keen awareness of Husak, the Central Iowa team was given another shot.

“On page 116 (of the rule book) there is Rule 9.C.1 - A manager or coach that takes any action that results in making a travesty of the game, causing players to intentionally perform poorly - will be disqualified,” Husak said. “I went to that rule. It took me a few minutes to find it, but as I did I pointed it out to them. Causing a player to perform poorly - when they wouldn’t swing at strikes and were bunting with two strikes - that was it. Little League International decided not to DQ them, but instead said we want to settle this on the field. At the end of the day, we were just happy to get a second chance.”

Husak’s team took full advantage of that opportunity by upsetting the South Snohomish team in a play-in game by a 3-2 score to earn its place in the championship round.

“They could’ve been furious and could’ve been mean and upset and said things, but they didn’t,” said Troy Houge, who is the head softball coach at Collins-Maxwell-Baxter. “They stayed probably more professional than the professionals are, let’s put it that way. Our professional athletes aren’t near as professional as they were. They handled everything with class and dignity. Basically, they had the Iowa way about them.”

Mikayla Houge struck out 11 and tossed a three-hitter with two walks, giving up just two unearned runs in the first inning to earn the victory. Hobbs went 1-for-2 with a double, walk and two runs and Rigby was 2-for-3 against South Snohomish.

In the semifinals of the championship round, Central Iowa suffered a 5-4 loss at the hands of the Warwick North Little League team from Warwick, R.I. Rigby was 2-for-3 with a triple, run and RBI, Houge went 2-for-3 with a run and Hobbs took the loss on the mound after giving up five runs - one earned - on six hits with five strikeouts and three walks.

The Central Iowa team bounced back to end the tournament on a high note by defeating the Seguin Little League team from Seguin, Texas, by a 9-2 score in the third-place consolation game.

Houge was 3-for-4 , Ella Kahler went 3-for-3 with two RBI and Emma Kahler was 2-for-2 with two RBI to lead the Central Iowa team on offense. Houge was the winning pitcher after giving up two earned runs on six hits with four strikeouts and one walk in six innings.

Chemistry played a big part in the Central Iowa team’s success throughout the season.

“Everybody knew their role right away,” Husak said. “As we established those roles, the success started to come.”

Starters Hobbs, Wilson, Larson, Steffen, Maddie Kyhl, Abby Husak, Ella Kahler and Isabella Johnson all had their moments during the World Series. The team’s bench players - Emma Kahler, Brynna Huen and Chloe Dougherty - also made a mark.

“Even though I was a reserve, (Husak) would let me do courtesy runner and I would still hit,” said Dougherty, the daughter of Greg and Sally Dougherty of Alleman. “I didn’t feel left out; I felt fine.”

It also didn’t hurt to have a battery combo like Husak had with Houge at pitcher and Rigby at catcher.

“I was thinking about it today, and I think we had the best pitcher in the world (Houge) and the best catcher in the world (Rigby) at this age,” Husak said. “One of the biggest reasons we were able to do what we did was because of that combination, and we had a great defense behind them. They’re very special kids - I think they’ll go on to do bigger and better things.”

Rigby - the daughter of Shawn and Jenn Rigby of Huxley - was thrilled with her experience playing on the Central Iowa All-Star team.

“I don’t think I’ve taken it all in yet,” Rigby said. “I mean we got to dance with people from Uganda (the AVRS Little League team) and they’re amazing. We partied with the Philippine team (Illam Little League) a couple times and those girls are awesome. Overall, it was just amazing.”

Two of the four seventh-graders to be - Dougherty and Huen - will be eligible to participate on the team again next year.

Nine of the girls - Houge, Rigby, Hobbs, Larson, Kyhl, Husak, Johnson and the Kahler twins - will be eighth graders - moving up to the high school ranks by the summer of 2016. That bodes well for the Ballard and CMB softball programs, and North Polk can look forward to the arrival of Dougherty and Steffen in 2017.

“I went out and had a talk with them (after the South Snohomish scandal) and said ‘look, no matter what happens here’s the thing: We’re (CMB) 2A; North Polk, you girls are 3A and Ballard, you girls are 4A,”’ Troy Houge said. “I said ‘in a few years, I want to see all of you girls at the state tournament rooting each other on. You a good, tight-knit group and you’ve made great bonds here and I want to see you all at state rooting for each other.”’