Slow start not a concern for young Ballard softball team

Joe Randleman
Ames Tribune
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 ... 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, 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 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 Mortenson. Really all of them can do it all.” 

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.

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 said this 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.”