Raiders are state bound

Story and photos by Joe RandlemanStaff Writer
Raiders are state bound

COLLINS - The Collins-Maxwell-Baxter softball program has come a long way in 16 years under head coach Troy Houge and on Monday, the Raiders reached the pinnacle of their journey by qualifying for state for the first time in program history.

CMB reached state with a 4-1 victory over Heart of Iowa Conference rival North Polk in the Class 3A regional finals Monday in Collins.

Collins-Maxwell reached state in 1985, but the program hadn’t come close to the promised land since consolidating with Baxter until last year, when the Raiders fell to eventual 2A state champion Iowa City Regina in the regional finals.

With many players back from last year’s breakthrough run, CMB was poised to take the next step in 2016. Behind strong pitching from veteran Abbey Kahler and a timely hit by her battery mate - Hannah Caple - the Raiders punched their tickets to state with an impressive win over North Polk.

“It’s been awesome,” Houge said. “A couple of the girls from our last conference title team (2010) are here watching - a lot of girls that came before these girls helped set this all up. These girls have learned and they took it to another level and got us our first state tournament appearance. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

Kahler tossed a three-hitter and finished with four strikeouts and no walks.

“I just had to believe in myself and think positive the whole game and think we’re not under pressure ever,” Kahler said. “I threw pretty good - I impressed myself.”

Kahler couldn’t overpower a disciplined North Polk squad, but her defense was more than up to the task.

CMB went without an error. The Raiders made several outstanding plays in the field - highlighted by great catches in the outfield from Heather Jessen and Katie Camp.

In the bottom of the second inning, Jessen made an acrobatic leaping catch in right field off a ball hit by North Polk’s Trisha Sporra. In the bottom of the fourth, Camp made a nifty over-the-shoulder grab in left field off a ball hit by the Comets’ Maddy Hill.

In the infield, eighth-grade shortstop Mikayla Houge - Troy’s daughter - made a handful of great plays at shortstop to prevent base hits.

“Mikayla had a good night tonight, our left fielder - Katie Camp - came up huge tonight (and) Heather Jessen made a great play in right field,” Houge said. “When it came down to it, we made plays.”

On offense, CMB got a run in the first inning when Mikayla Eslinger singled in courtesy runner Abby Husak after Kahler singled and Payge Jurgens walked. The Raiders went up 2-0 in the third when Eslinger hit another RBI single.

Eslinger’s single in the third put runners on the corners with one out. That set up Caple for the hit of the game as she smoked a ball to the gap in left-center field to score two runs and give Kahler a very comfortable four-run cushion.

“I think (Comet pitcher Sophie Swygman) made a mistake inside, so I capitalized on it,” Caple said. “I just saw the ball go to the gap, so I was really excited for my team. I was so pumped.”

“That definitely took a lot of weight off my shoulders,” Kahler said. “As a pitcher there is a lot of pressure out there, especially in big games like this one, so that really helped me. I was going crazy cheering with her.”

North Polk put up a run in the bottom of the third when Becca Ley singled, stole second, took third on a single from Ellie Owen and scored off a bunt hit by her sister Audrey. But the Comets never mounted a serious threat again.

North Polk ended the season at 21-13.

Swygman ended up with three strikeouts and two walks over seven innings in a losing effort. Owen finished with a double and a single for North Polk on offense.

The game marked the first time North Polk had participated in a regional final since 2009. The Comets made great strides themselves this season under head coach Lynette Foster and they plan on making more runs at state in the near future, with Audrey Ley being the lone senior on the roster.

“We had a lot of energy and more positive leadership by our junior class,” Foster said. “We just need to keep working hard.”

CMB will take a 25-8 record into the state tournament.

“We made two main goals coming in,” Houge said. “We wanted to win conference and we got that, and we wanted to make state. Now we’ve got to set new ones for the state tournament.”

The Raiders open state next Tuesday, July 19, against No. 3 Solon (32-9). The game will take place on the Buena Vista University Field at the Rogers Sports Complex in Fort Dodge at 3 p.m.

CMB 4, North Polk 1

CMB 103 000 0 - 4 10 0

NP 001 000 0 - 1 3 0

CMB: Abbey Kahler and Hannah Caple.

NP: Sophie Swygman and Trisha Sporra.

WP: Kahler.

LP: Swygman.

2B: CMB - Caple, Payge Jurgens, Mikayla Houge. NP - Ellie Owen.