Avery Fricke is making a big impact as the No. 2 batter for fourth-ranked Collins-Maxwell
As Avery Fricke was preparing for her junior season in 2021 Collins-Maxwell head softball coach Troy Houge took her aside and let her know she was going to play a huge role on the team moving forward.
Fricke was moving into the spot behind all-state leadoff hitter and soon-to-be DePaul Blue Demon Alexis Houge.
“A couple years ago I told Avery you’re going into the 2 spot,” Troy Houge said. “You’ve got to get bunts down and you’re going to create havoc on the bases."
Fricke has responded in a big way.
As a junior she hit .473 with 35 runs, 29 steals and 21 RBIs. Through the first 11 games of her senior season she is hitting .548 with 20 runs, 18 steals and 11 RBIs.
"The last couple of years she’s just run with it," Troy Houge said. "She’s done a great job.”
Fricke almost didn't go out for softball. Coach Houge had to prod her to join the team at the end of her eighth-grade year.
She had to bide her time behind Katie Camp and Ella Kahler, two outstanding No. 2 hitters behind Alexis Houge from 2018-2020. But even then Fricke still found a way to make an impact.
In 2019 she scored the winning run on a sacrifice fly during Collins-Maxwell's 4-3 victory over Clarksville in the Class 1A state championship game. Despite not having a spot in the regular lineup, Fricke stole 24 bases and scored 30 runs to help the Spartans repeat as state champions.
In 2020 Fricke got one at-bat in 22 games. But she picked up 22 runs and 22 steals to help Collins-Maxwell reach its third straight championship game before falling to Clarksville.
“She got all-conference honorable mention as a courtesy runner,” Troy Houge said. “That’s how valuable she was.”
Over the past two years Fricke has thrived batting between Alexis Houge and her younger sister Erica, the starting Spartan pitcher.
“If Lexi gets on I have to get on so Erica can drive us around,” Fricke said. “That’s kind of what we do. It’s not hard to tell.”
Alexis entered Friday's game vs. North Tama boasting the best batting average in the state at .742. She also scored 25 runs, stole 21 bases and picked up 11 RBIs in just 10 games.
Having to follow that up has been a tall order for Fricke.
“It’s a lot of pressure, I’m not gonna lie," Fricke said. "But I’ve gotten used to it. She’ll get on, then I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do to get on because Lexi is not going to get thrown out.”
So far Fricke has held up her end of the bargain and then some.
“It’s awesome having Avery right behind me," Alexis Houge said. "We’ve grown up together and through track and stuff and we’ve got that connection. I’ve got full confidence with her behind me. It’s fun having two speedsters at the top. We have our roles and we play them pretty well.”
The 45 combined runs by Fricke and Alexis Houge entering the North Tama game accounted for almost half of the Spartans' 101 runs.
“That is pretty remarkable,” Troy Houge said. “They’re on and they’re scoring every single time.”
Those two have been phenomenal table setters for Erica Houge. Erica was hitting .543 with five home runs and 31 RBIs heading into Friday night.
“It’s very nice for me as a hitter because I get to hit them in,” Erica Houge said. “It’s also nice for me from a pitching aspect because scoring right away helps me as a pitcher.”
Erica averages right around 10 strikeouts per game as a pitcher and has given up just 21 hits all season. That means Fricke doesn't get a lot of balls hit to her in center field, though she said she did get two hit her way during a 2-0 victory over Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont Thursday.
“Even if I’m not getting balls hit to me there’s always something to do,” Fricke said. “But it’s nice having a good pitcher so you don’t have to catch many balls.”
Should a ball make it past the infield Erica has plenty of trust in Fricke.
“I know if there’s a ball out there she’ll run it down,” Erica Houge said. “She never fails.”
Collins-Maxwell took a 12-0 record into this weekend's Oskaloosa Invitational. But the Spartans know they still have a lot of work to do.
“I think our defense has always been great,” Fricke said. “We’ve just got to get our hitting going.”
But younger hitters in the lineup, such as sophomores Hannah Kimberley and Emma Pasquariello and eighth-graders Haylee Merryman and Cypress Erickson, are starting to come around. Fricke and Alexis Houge have played a big role in helping the youngsters out, especially the two slap hitters in Merryman and Erickson.
“They’re working hard with those two young ones,” Troy Houge said. “They’re really trying to teach them so they can take over for them. That’s probably what’s best about those two. They’re trying to give back to make sure we stay tough after they’re gone.”
But Fricke and Alexis still have some unfinished business of their own to take care of before their time as a Spartan is up. They want to make it to state for the fourth time after missing out last year and take a shot at the school's third state championship.
Fricke is happy with the progress the Spartans have made toward those goals. She is ready to go out on a high note.
“I think we’re starting to click,” Fricke said. “Everything is coming together.”