FORT DODGE — Charles City slayed a pair of giants, defeating two of the top three teams in Class 4A’s final rankings to reach Thursday’s semifinal round of the state softball tournament.
One game removed from a shot at a championship, Ballard finally made the Comets look like a true underdog. The Bombers’ speed combined with Charles City’s reconfigured infield presented a daunting challenge in a game that appeared poised to become a blowout.
Charles City ultimately adapted and pressured the Bombers until the final out.
Still, Ballard’s four-run second inning was too much to overcome as the first-time state qualifiers reached Friday’s championship game against Winterset with a 6-1 win over Charles City at Harlan and Hazel Rogers Sports Complex.
“We played four innings of brilliant defense — good pitching,” Charles City coach Brian Bohlen said. “We had letdowns in a few innings and it cost us runs.
“Like I told them after the game, we didn’t get beat by a bad team. They’re a great team. It was a battle, it was a fight and we never gave up. We fought through the entire thing. We looked really good at times and that’s all you can ask for.”
Ballard (35-5) hit just one ball out of the infield in the second inning as it used its running game to pressure a Charles City infield filled with players in new positions.
The Comets’ starting catcher suffered a broken thumb in the regional final round and they’ve been playing with a new catcher, third baseman and second baseman since the second inning of Tuesday’s state tournament opener.
Charles City (33-7) fell behind in the first inning when a leadoff walk followed by two wild pitches and an interference call plated Skylar Rigby. Ballard then recorded four infield singles — two of the bunt variety — to go with Rigby’s RBI single to the outfield, two more wild pitches, a passed ball and a stolen base in its four-run second inning.
It was one example of the type of havoc first-year head coach Charlie Husak’s team has created during its inaugural run to Fort Dodge.
“We felt we could continue to play our game and play aggressively,” Husak said. “We’ve got our own system and our own philosophy and we do what we do, and we just keep doing it really well.
“The girls have just bought in. They’re having fun. They love each other and they’ve just built this program. It’s really fun to watch.”
Charles City’s early five-run deficit was short-lived as senior clean-up hitter Sara Martin belted her team-leading 13th home run of the season well beyond the left field fence to open the bottom half of the second inning. Ballard lefty Abby Carlin settled in from there, finishing with eight strikeouts, no walks and five hits allowed.
Ciana Sonberg, Shantel VanHauen and Lisabeth Fiser joined Martin in the Charles City hit column.
“I felt like it was my job to kind of get the game started,” Martin said. “I love hitting home runs — it’s the best feeling in the world. I wanted that to be our spark to kind of start the game, but it just kind of went the other way.
“When we hit the ball, we had line drives, it just needed to go two inches to the left or two inches to the right. They were just going right to their defense. We had a lot of hits, but it just wasn’t at the right time.”
While Ballard positioned itself early to end this game in mercy rule fashion, Charles City’s defenders didn’t allow another big inning. Sophomore ace Sami Heyer battled through the triple-digit heat index and finished with six strikeouts, working around four walks and nine hits. Three errors and two runners reaching on dropped third strikes extended innings, but Ballard added just one tally over the final five frames when Jenna Moody scored on a passed ball.
A tradition-rich Charles City program that ranks third in Iowa with 51 state tournament victories will attempt to end the season with a win in the third place game at 9:30 a.m. Friday against Oskaloosa. Martin is one of three senior starters eager for the opportunity to finish her prep career strong.
“Sure I wish we would have won today and ended up in the championship, but this is where we’re at,” Martin said. “Now it’s a matter of how we walk into the game tomorrow. Our goal is to walk in with our heads high and go beat them.”
Ballard 6, Charles City 1
Ballard 140 001 0 — 6 9 2
Charles City 010 000 0 — 1 5 3
Abby Carlin and Skylar Rigby. Sami Heyer and Ciana Sonberg. 2B—Shantel VanHauen (CC). HR—Sara Martin (CC).