Young Bombers starting to turn the corner: Ballard has won three straight after 0-4 start

Joe Randleman
Tri-County Times
Junior Maggie McCrady is back pitching for the Ballard softball team after not competing in 2020. She provides needed experience for a young Bomber team that has won three straight after an 0-4 start.

Ballard head softball coach Charlie Husak would’ve liked to have seen fewer dropped fly balls, bobbled grounders and errant throws from his team during Tuesday’s 7-3 loss to Norwalk in Huxley. 

The Bombers had seven errors and gave up four unearned runs. The loss put them at 0-2 following a 5-4 setback to Bondurant-Farrar in the season opener the night before. 

But Husak isn’t worried. 

“The group that just graduated, outside of the 2017 season, was something like 2-15 the first week of their seasons,” Husak said. “It’s nothing new. Even last year I remember last year starting off we were kicking and booting the ball like we did tonight. But we kept getting tighter, kept getting stronger and kept getting better.” 

Ballard lost a tremendous senior class from last year that featured three all-state players in catcher Skylar Rigby, outfielder Abby Husak and second baseman Isabelle Hobbs – with Rigby being a Division 1 talent at Drake. So it’s perfectly understandable to experience some growing pains at the start of the season. 

“We’re trying to figure out lineups and still trying to figure out roles,” Husak said. “We sat for about three or four years where we kind of knew where everyone was going to be. We’re mixing and matching this first week and maybe the first two weeks and seeing who will settle in – we have a lot of different opportunities for a lot of different kids.” 

Among the younger players showing potential so far are Husak’s daughter Ella at second base, sophomore Lily Hillebrand at shortstop, sophomore Sam Vetter at catcher and sophomore Kasey Larson and freshmen Maggie Mortenson and Jocie Hobbs in the outfield. 

“There are a ton of utility players that can kind of go anywhere,” Ballard senior outfielder/catcher Molly Houge said. “We’re trying to figure out what works best.” 

Houge, center fielder Carley Wilson, third baseman Brynna Huen, first baseman Matty Beerbower and pitchers Brooklyn Baumgardner, Maggie McCrady and Hailey Walzer all return with quality varsity experience for Ballard.  But several of those players have had to miss practice time due to obligations with other sports, making it Coach Husak rely on his youngsters a little more than he’d prefer to this early in the season. 

“We had a really good three weeks of practice, but we were missing a lot of kids with some crossover with other sports,” Husak said. “A lot of those kids were our seniors. We’re getting them back into shape and it’s good to have them – they've got a lot of softball under their belt.” 

Houge has been impressed with several of the newer players to the varsity roster. 

“Lily Hillebrand has worked her butt off and is looking really good,” Houge said.” Jocie Hobbs didn’t start tonight, but she’s definitely a big part of this, and Ella Husak and Kasey Larson and Maggie Mortensen. Really all of them can do it all.” 

Houge, Wilson, Huen and Walzer are the senior leaders for the Bombers, with Houge and Wilson having the most experience on the team. They don’t plan on watching the program take a big dip in their final season after the Bombers went 92-40 over the previous four seasons with three trips to the regional finals and a Class 4A state runner-up showing in 2017. 

“It’s our final season and we’re having fun and making the best of it,” Houge said. “We’re just going out with a bang I guess.” 

They may not finish with a gaudy final record or even reach .500 playing in an always-loaded Raccoon River Conference. But Husak this his team has the potential to be a threat to anyone they face by the end of the season. 

“I keep saying that we’re going to compete with everybody, but we might not beat anybody,” Husak said. “That’s all right. We’re working hard and we want to be as tough as we can at the end of the year.” 

In their opening loss to Bondurant-Farrar the Bombers took a 4-3 lead into the seventh inning only to give up two runs in the top of the inning. They were unable to counter in the bottom of the inning to come up one run short. 

Baumgardner gave up three earned runs on eight hits and four walks with nine strikeouts as the losing pitcher. Houge was 2-for-3 with a double and two RBIs, Husak 3-for-4 with a run, Beerbower 2-for-4 with a run and Mortensen 2-for-4 in the loss. 

Ballard followed up the Norwalk game with a 13-1 loss at Carlisle in five innings and a 9-2 setback to Boone in Huxley. 

Wilson singled and scored and Beerbower singled and drove in a run against Carlisle. Baumgardner took the loss after allowing nine runs – five earned – on nine hits with two strikeouts in 3 1/3 innings. 

Ballard was hurt by a rough sixth inning in the loss to Boone. The Bombers led 2-1 going into the inning then gave up seven runs. 

Beerbower and Sam Vetter both singled and drove in a run, Baumgardner and Husak each added a single and Mortensen and Cecilia Christensen each scored one run. McCrady took the loss after allowing seven runs, five earned, on three hits and five walks with five strikeouts in five innings. 

The Bombers concluded the week with an impressive 12-2 win over an Atlantic team ranked fifth in 3A. Ballard prevailed in six innings at Huxley after picking up 14 hits and getting a three-hitter out of Baumgardner, who earned the win after striking out six and walking four. 

Freshman second baseman Ella Husak is one of several young players stepping up early in the 2021 season for the Ballard softball program. The Bombers have won three in a row after an 0-4 start.

Husak went 3-for-4 with four runs and an RBI, Beerbower 3-for-3 with a triple and six RBIs, Huen 2-for-2 with two RBIs and Houge 2-for-4 with two runs and an RBI against the Trojans. 

Ballard carried the momentum from the Atlantic win into Monday’s BCLUW Memorial Day tournament at Conrad. The Bombers scored two decisive wins in three innings, crushing BCLUW (18-1) and Belle Plaine (13-0). 

Christensen and Hillebrand both had two one home run and double apiece plus three RBIs in the victory over BCLUW. Husak was 3-for-3 with two runs and an RBI, Houge 2-for-4 with two runs and RBIs apiece, Vetter 2-for-2 with a triple and two RBIs and Beerbower 1-for-3 with a double and two RBIs. 

McCrady gave up one hit and struck out four with no walks going all three innings to earn the win over BCLUW. 

Baumgardner threw a two-hit shutout with five strikeouts and one walk in three innings to score the victory against Belle Plaine. Hailey Walzer homered and drove in two runs, Wilson doubled and knocked in a pair, Hobbs was 1-for-2 with two RBIs, Mortensen was 2-for-2 with three RBIs, Husak 2-for-2 with a double and a run and Houge 1-for-2 with a double and two runs.