How the Ballard softball team traversed through a rough schedule to make a surprising run to state

Joe Randleman
Ames Tribune

The 2022 season saw everything come together at the right time for the Ballard softball program.

The Bombers endured a rough regular season thanks in large part to one of the toughest schedules in the state. They faced 21 teams that ended the season ranked in their respective classes, including 13 games against teams that eventually qualified for state.

As a result, the Bombers endured their first losing season since 2009, finishing 17-21 overall. But they turned in a respectable 8-8 finish in a loaded Raccoon River Conference and saved their best ball for last to make the state tournament for the first time since 2017, where they placed fifth in Class 3A.

"We were two different teams," Ballard head coach Charlie Husak said. "This team played and worked through a lot of adversity.  To see them overcome it and accomplish so much was amazing."

Ballard opened the season with a 9-8 win over a Bondurant-Farrar team that ended up ranked 10th in 4A. The Bombers then defeated Atlantic (9-7) and eventual 4A state qualifier Indianola (3-1) before falling to Center Point-Urbana (8-6).

The emergence of eighth-grader Jada Lande in the infield played a big role in Ballard being able to overcome a shaky start to make the state softball tournament and place fifth in Class 3A this season.

The Bombers then lost to eventual RRC champion Adel-Desoto-Minburn (2-1), ranked 5A power Ankeny Centennial (6-0), 2A state qualifier Central Springs (11-5) and South Hamilton (4-1). They snapped their losing streak with a 5-3 victory at Gilbert then defeated Carroll by a 12-4 score.

Eventual 5A state runner-up Fort Dodge handed Ballard a 2-0 loss. The Bombers bounced back with a 16-14 win over North Polk and then they suffered setbacks at the hands of a Roland-Story team that finished ninth in 2A (9-7) and Bondurant-Farrar (8-3).

Ballard split a doubleheader with eventual 4A fourth-place finisher Carlisle, losing 10-0 and winning 6-1. The Bombers followed that up by going 2-2 at the Fort Dodge Invitational with wins over Cedar Rapids Kennedy (6-0) and eventual 5A state qualifier Pleasant Valley (7-3) and losses to Fort Dodge (11-0) and Ankeny (7-4).

The Bombers swept Boone (13-3 and 10-0), fell to 2A state qualifier Van Meter (2-0), ADM (2-1), Ankeny (9-4), Davis County (7-6) and earned an 11-1 victory over top-five 3A power Estherville-Lincoln Central over their next seven games. They suffered a doubleheader loss to eventual 5A state champion Winterset (10-0 and 7-5), and setbacks to North Polk (3-2) and Gilbert (11-8) before finishing June with a 17-3 romp at Carroll.

The regular season ended with an embarrassing 11-0 loss to top-15 5A school Ames. But that lopsided defeat lit a fire under the Bombers heading into 3A regionals.

Ballard outscored its three regional foes — Des Moines Christian, Roland-Story and fourth-ranked West Liberty by a combined 26-1 score. The Bombers handed DMC a 10-0 loss, gained a big measure of revenge against the Norse with an 8-0 triumph in Roland then traveled to West Liberty and humiliated the Comets, 8-1.

"I enjoyed the postseason and the resilience of this group," Husak said. "Winning at West Liberty in the regional final was very special for coaches, players and families."

At state Ballard ran into a buzz saw against eventual 3A runner-up Davenport Assumption in the 3A quarterfinals, falling by a 12-2 score. But the Bombers bounced back to trounce Sioux Center in the fifth-place game by an 8-1 margin to end the season on a high note.

"Finding our identity has been a two-year challenge until we reached the postseason this season," Husak said. "We had the best team chemistry since I’ve been at Ballard."

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Ballard finished the year with 203 runs and a team batting average of .317 going against several of the best pitchers in the state. The Bombers gave up 189 runs in 238 innings, with their pitching staff posting a 4.03 ERA with 168 strikeouts and 88 walks and their defense recording a team fielding average of 94.1%.

"The girls recognized how important team chemistry is," Husak said. "When it is present and everyone is playing for their team and not themselves they can be very successful." 

Sophomore shortstop Abby Husak and junior catcher Sam Vetter were first-team all-state selections and sophomore pitcher Brooklyn Baumgardner made the second team in 3A.

Husak hit .495 with seven doubles, one triple, 42 runs, 26 steals and 14 RBIs. She only had nine errors in 143 chances defensively.

Vetter hit .403 with 13 doubles, one triple, one homer and 28 runs and RBIs apiece. She threw out nine base runners and only made six errors in 178 chances.

Baumgardner was 12-13 on the mound. She had a 4.45 ERA with 104 strikeouts and 50 walks in 141 2/3 innings.

Baumgardner also hit .240 with six doubles, one triple and home run apiece and 14 RBIs.

Sophomore infielder Maggie Mortensen hit .341 with 11 doubles, one triple and home run apiece, 33 runs and 20 RBIs. She made 38 putouts and 22 assists on defense.

Maggie Mortensen hit .341 with 11 doubles and 20 RBIs for Ballard during her sophomore season.

Senior Maggie McCrady hit .342 with nine doubles, one triple, one homer, 31 runs and 20 RBIs through the regular season. She was 5-8 with a 4.30 ERA in 99 1/3 innings on the hill.

Eighth-grader Jada Lande stepped up to hit .299 with eight doubles, three triples, 17 runs and 36 RBIs in her first varsity season. She made 56 putouts and 48 assists defensively.

"Jada Lande provided a great on field presence as an eighth grader," Charlie Husak said. "She is a really good athlete and softball player and teammate. As she develops more and gets stronger as a student of the game she will be fun to watch." 

Junior center fielder Kasey Larson hit .258 with four doubles, one triple, two homers, 13 runs and 15 RBIs and she only made five errors in 43 chances.

"Our leadership really came from our two juniors and a couple sophomores," Charlie Husak said. "Sam was a great example behind the plate and worked hard each night for us. Kasey pushed the team and was a great vocal leader on and off the field. Brooklyn and Ella did a tremendous job and led us in the postseason through their play and production along with their example." 

Sophomore second baseman Jocie Hobbs posted a .242 average with three doubles, one triple, two homers, 20 runs and 16 RBIs at the plate and she only made six errors in the field. Sophomore outfielder Ellie Volkmann didn't make an error in 25 chances and she hit .235 with four doubles and 16 runs. 

Sophomore first baseman Kora Johnson made 201 putouts defensively and she hit .237 with 10 runs and RBIs apiece. Freshman Payton Askelsen scored 16 runs and junior Noelle Boettger crossed the plate five times for Ballard. 

With its tremendous finish to the season Ballard will have high expectations heading into 2023. No seniors were on the Bombers' postseason roster.

"We will have a lot of experience coming back," Charlie Husak said. "With a strong offseason it will be exciting to see the potential of this group."