NORWALK – It’s too bad for Ballard that there are no mulligans in softball.
The Bombers desparately needed one in their Class 4A regional championship game against Norwalk for the right to go to state Tuesday in Norwalk.
For six innings the No. 6 Bombers outplayed the No. 11 Warriors. But the first inning was a nightmare for Ballard as Norwalk put up seven runs in the bottom of the inning.
The Bombers never fully recooperated from their disasterous start, suffering a 7-3 loss.
“A team like this we have the offensive power to (come back), but this stage, in this moment, you start counting outs and Norwalk gains confidence with every single out,” Ballard head coach Staci Sniezek said. “We hit the ball. We stuck with our game plan - took her outside pitch to the right side - but we had some hard hits that were outs. That’s the way the ball bounces. I know that’s a phrase and it seems shallow right now, but you never, ever practice for what happened in the first inning.”
In the bottom of the first, Norwalk’s Sidney Zepnak reached on a bunt single, Melody Stevens walked and Taylor Goode singled to load the bases with one out. Bomber pitcher Kenzie Ihle then walked the next two Warrior batters and Paige Dickel came through with a two-run single to give the Warriors a 4-0 lead.
Madison Stogdill followed Dickel with a double to the gap in left-center field, plating two more runs, and Lauren Bagby capped the big Warrior inning with an RBI bloop single over the head of Ballard first baseman Sydne Struve.
Norwalk loaded the bases back up with still just one out on the board, but Ihle dug down and forced Stevens to fly out to Gabbie Scherle in center field and then she struck out Goode to get out of the inning.
“You don’t even dream that your ace - a great kid that’s done so much for this program - can spot seven runs,” Sniezek said. “That’s not our defense and that’s not her pitching.”
But Ballard refused to be a deer in the headlights for the rest of the game. The Bombers buckled down and outplayed the Warriors over the final six innings.
In the top of the third, Ellie Godwin hit a one-out triple to center field and scored on a bunt single from Scherle. Goode prevented Ballard from doing more damage in the inning by striking out the next two batters after Scherle to get out of the inning.
In the fourth inning Ihle singled and Olivia Hall reached on an error, but a force out and a ground out left the two Bomber base runners stranded, and Goode forced Struve to ground out for the final out of the inning with no damage done.
Ballard went in order in the fifth. In the sixth Ihle walked with one out and courtesy runner Kennedy Newell moved to second on a passed ball, but she was left stranded when Good snared a hard liner back to the mound by Ellen Huxford.
In its final opportunity to get something done, Ballard put a little bit of a scare into Norwalk.
Alex Petersen led off the top of the seventh with a walk. After she moved to second on a ground out by Struve, Godwin stepped to the plate and smacked her second home run of the postseason - clearing the fence in left-center field to pull Ballard within four.
“I wanted to do something for my team and I just wanted to win so bad,” Godwin said. “In the end it didn’t turn out like we wanted it to, but I felt like I gave my team hope.”
Goode put an end to any thoughts of a miracle comeback for Ballard as she forced both Scherle and Annie Stolte to ground out to end the game.
“Once we settled in we saw what the two teams really should’ve been like,” Sniezek said. “Give them all the credit - they definitely took the air right out of the balloon right when we got here.”
With the loss Ballard finishes the season at 27-7. It was the third year in a row the Bombers reached the regional finals behind the outstanding play of seniors Ihle, Godwin, Stolte, Brooke Mallon, Sheridan Gealow and Sam McInroy.
“You wish the kids had better performances on this stage - the seniors deserve much more than that,” Sniezek said. “This is a group that will mark up the history books. They’ve done so much for the program - they brought a state championship to us as sophomores - and I’ve never seen harder workers.
For these seniors the rest of the group really worked hard for them and for that it’s tough. They’re great teammates and representatives of Ballard. It’s sad they won’t see another day to play at state - they deserve it.”
Ihle gave up eight hits and six walks and she struck out four in a losing effort.
She limited Norwalk to just two hits and walks apiece over the final six innings.
“Kenzie made a huge adjustment the rest of the innings,” Sniezek said. “She changed her delivery on a couple pitches and then I think we saw how effective she could be against a good team like Norwalk.”
Godwin went out with a bang offensively by accounting for all three Bomber runs as she scored twice and also drove in two runs. Ihle finished with two singles and walk, Scherle tallied a pair of singles and a steal and Petersen ended up with one walk.
Goode had three strikeouts and two walks in picking up the victory for Norwalk. She also had a double and a single on offense.
Zepnak also collected two hits and Dickel, Stogdill, Bagby and Kathryn Elliott picked up one apiece for Norwalk. The Warriors will take a 27-12 record into the state tournament, where they will face West Delaware (30-7) Monday at Fort Dodge.
Norwalk 7, Ballard 3
B 001 000 2 - 3 6 0
N 700 000 X - 7 8 1
B: Kenzie Ihle and Brooke Mallon
N: Taylor Goode and Emily Delker
2B: N - Goode, Madison Stogdill
3B: B - Ellie Godwin
HR: B - Godwin
HUXLEY – Timely plays in the field and a hot start on offense were enough to get
Ballard past Winterset in Class 4A regional semifinal play Saturday in Huxley.
Ballard, ranked sixth in 4A, won a well-played and intense 5-4 game between two Raccoon River Conference rivals. Ellie Godwin provided the winning hit with her third home run of the season in the fourth inning, and Ballard withstood a scary fifth inning to reach the regional finals for the third year in a row.
“During tournament time every team is going to play to the best of their ability,” Ballard pitcher Kenzie Ihle said. “It’s really about winning and moving on. You always have to think about the next play and that’s what we did. Every time we got down we came right back up.”
The Bombers took a 5-2 lead into the top of the fifth inning. But Winterset struck for its second productive inning of the game as the first three Huskies reached base in the inning – resulting in two runs.
Danny Barker was hit by a pitch to lead off the top of the fifth and Macy Johnson followed with a single.
Alexis Clouse then connected for a single, scoring both Barker and Johnson and she moved to second on the throw.
Ihle and the Bomber defense had to really buckle down to prevent Winterset pinch runner Layken Gurwell from making her way home for the tying run.
Ballard picked up its first out when Kylie McDonald flied to right field, but Gurwell was able to move over to third. The next Winterset batter – Alexa Clark – ripped a hot grounder in the gap between third and second base.
Bomber shortstop Annie Stolte scooped up the ball then immediately looked over to third. Stolte held Gurwell until the absolute last second then fired a strike to first.
Ballard first baseman Sydne Struve made a great stretch to snare the ball just in time to get the out without the runner advancing.
That play turned out to be a huge difference maker. Ihle forced Briley Tryon to fly out to left for the final out of the inning to leave Gurwell stranded. Neither team threatened over the final two innings, enabling the 5-4 Bomber lead to hold up.
“It was absolutely huge,” Ballard head coach Staci Sniezek said. “She did a nice check – that runner was staying put. Then to make that throw across the diamond and for Syd to hang on and squeeze that in for the out was absolutely huge. That’s a play Winterset probably wanted to get and Annie made a great, great play.”
Ballard jumped out to a 3-0 lead after one inning as the game looked as if it was going to be a replay of the Bombers’ 13-1 dismantling of the Huskies on July 2. But Winterset blanked the Bombers in the second then came back with two runs in the third to make it a ball game.
“You throw out all the games previous to tonight,” Sniezek said. “Being in the Raccoon River Conference and knowing each other so well, you knew they were going to bring their ‘A’ game. We made just enough plays to win.”
In the bottom of the first Ihle hit an RBI double and Olivia Hall and Alex Petersen each singled in a run for Ballard.
In the top of the third Johnson singled in a run and Ballard’s only error of the game led to another Winterset score.
Ballard came back with a run in the bottom of the inning when Struve hit a two-out RBI single with runners on second and third.
The Bombers tried to get both runners home, but Alex Petersen was thrown out at the plate for the final out.
The eventual winning run came when Godwin stepped to the plate to lead off the bottom of the fourth. After giving up two strikes, Godwin smoked a Regan Thompson pitch over the fence in left field.
“My first at-bat I didn’t do so hot and I was kind of nervous coming up,” Godwin said.
“Then there were two strikes and I said, ‘oh dang, this is not going to end well.’ But I just kept my head high, watched the pitched all the way through and it turned out well for me.”
Ihle, Petersen and Gabbie Scherle each had two hits for Ballard in the win. Godwin, Hall, Stolte and Struve picked up one hit apiece.
Ihle gave up seven hits and two walks and she hit one batter in seven innings. She struck out three in the victorious performance to help her team improve to 27-6 on the season and advance to face No. 11 Norwalk in the regional finals for the right to go to state.
“A lot of us built up our confidence tonight,” Ihle said. “Winning just makes you want to win the next one even more.”
Winterset finished the season at 19-16.
Johnson collected three hits, Macayla Criswell tallied two and Clouse and Haylee Brayton each picked up one for the Huskies. Thompson struck out one and didn’t issue a walk in a losing effort.
Ballard 5, Winterset 4
W 002 020 0 – 4 7 2
B 301 100 X – 5 10 1
W: Regan Thompson and Kylie McDonald
B: Kenzie Ihle and Brooke Mallon
2B: B – Ihle
HR: B – Ellie Godwin
HUXLEY – Ballard closed out the regular season with a hard-fought 2-1 non-conference victory over 5A school Ames July 9 in Huxley.
Both teams scored a run in the first inning. Bomber pitcher Kenzie Ihle then blanked the Little Cyclones over the final six innings and Ballard gave her the only addition run support she needed with a run in the third inning.
Ihle tossed a two-hitter with eight strikeouts and two walks to earn the victory. On offense Ballard tallied seven hits and also drew two walks as a team.
Annie Stolte went 2-for-3 with a double and a run to lead Ballard at the plate. Ellen Huxford was also 2-for-3, Ihle and Sheridan Gealow both singled in a run and Alex Petersen picked up one base hit. Gabbie Scherle walked and scored and Brooke Mallon also drew a free pass for the Bombers.
Danielle Mallas took the loss for Ames as she finished with two strikeouts and walks apiece in six innings. Hannah Bloch went 2-for-3 to account for both Little Cyclone hits and she also drove in Ames’ only run. Kate Crow walked and scored and Rachel Mortvedt drew a free pass for Ames.
Ballard 2, Ames 1
A 100 000 0 – 1 2 NA
B 101 000 X – 2 7 NA
A: Danielle Mallas and Hannah Bloch
B: Kenzie Ihle and Brooke Mallon
2B: B – Annie Stolte