SILENT NIGHT: Ihle keeps Lynx bats in check, Ballard prevails

HUXLEY – Defensive miscues hurt, there’s no doubt, but Webster City’s banishment from the postseason here on Saturday came down to one simple fact: Kenzie Ihle was just better than the hitters she faced.

Case closed.

Ihle, Ballard’s all-state junior pitcher who was the captain of the Class 3A state tournament all-tournament team last summer, owned the Webster City bats from start to finish in the ninth-ranked Bombers’ 4-1 victory over the No. 12 Lynx in a Class 4A Region 2 semifinal.

Ihle changed levels when she wanted, threw the fastball past the Lynx when she wanted and even used her change-up when needed to befuddle WCHS throughout the seven-inning affair. She allowed just one hit – a fourth-inning single by senior Tiffany Constable – and struck out the side in the first, second and seventh innings. She fanned 13 in all; every WCHS batter whiffed at least once.

“(Ihle) was on and she got the better of us (Saturday night),” WCHS head coach Jess Howard said. “Her change-up worked a little better than we’ve seen it work in the past and her speed was hard for us to catch up to because it’s not something we see a lot of.”

Ballard (25-10) – the 2012 3A state champion – advanced to Tuesday’s regional final against No. 11 Waverly-Shell Rock after smacking nine singles off Lynx senior all-state hurler Kaitlyn Biere. Lead-off stick Annie Stolte went 3-for-4, scored a run and drove in another to lead the way.

Biere sat down seven on strikes and worked her way out of numerous jams early in the game. The Bombers broke through with three runs in the fifth inning and never looked back.

Ballard loaded the bases with two outs in the fifth and then looked to Ihle to break the scoreless tie, and she came through in the clutch. She sat on a 2-1 change-up from Biere and drove it into left field for an RBI single. An error on the infield on a pop-up by Alex Peterson allowed two more runs to score to give the Bombers a 3-0 edge.

“It was a good pitch and she hit it well,” Biere said of the change-up to Ihle. “I wish I would have had another one to go high and in on her because I think I could have gotten her.”

WCHS (25-7) pulled to within 3-1 in the bottom of the fifth, thanks to a pair of Ballard errors. Hannah Myers reached base when Ihle was unable to field her bunt, and she eventually moved over to third. She scored on a botched pick-off attempt.

But Ballard quickly pushed its lead back to three runs on a Stolte RBI single to center in the sixth.

Both teams committed four errors; the mistakes cost the Lynx a pair of unearned runs.

“Defensively we had a few lapses, but that’s not what cost us the game,” Howard said.

Ballard threatened to bust the game open in the fourth with three hits. But Lynx right fielder Kenady Highland gunned down courtesy runner Olivia Hall at the plate for the second out and then made a lunging grab on the run on a shallow pop-fly by Ellen Huxford.

Biere, Constable and first baseman Erin Anderson played their final game in a Lynx uniform. They were the leaders of a squad that won the program’s 17th North Central Conference championship in the past 25 years, and Howard says all three will be missed.

“It’s hard to end anything, especially when you’ve got a group of girls that work really hard together,” she said. “It’s hard to see this set of seniors go.”