Defending a state championship is a tough task.
Carrying a big target and getting everyone’s best shot night in and night out can lead to some tense moments.
Top-ranked Collins-Maxwell (28-1 overall) danced through those issues on Thursday night, winning their second straight Class 1A championship at Rogers Park.
With rain slowing the start of title night by a half an hour, the Spartans remained loose on the field, dancing to the beat of music coming from the press box.
A few hours later, they were dancing away with another title.
The Spartans, who are only in their second year of existence after splitting away from Baxter in 2017, rallied to defeat third-ranked Clarksville 4-3. The Indians (33-2) were playing in their third state tournament and first since finishing as a runner up in 2017.
“This group doesn’t get rattled and knows how to stay loose,” said C-M head coach Troy Houge, who had both of his daughters, Mikayla and Alexis, named to the all-tournament squad.
Last season C-M won the state crown with a hit from senior Hannah Caple in the bottom of the seventh inning for the only run of the contest. This time around, the Spartans had to put their rally caps on.
With a 2-2 score through five, Clarksville grabbed a one-run lead in the top half of the sixth on an RBI-single from Bailey Myers to score Emma Poppe.
“They had us on the ropes,” Troy Houge said. “Our girls played clutch and came up with the big hit.”
Emma Kahler reached on an error to start the bottom of the sixth. Mikayla Houge then delivered a single that got past the outfielder as Kahler raced around the bases to tie the contest.
Avery Fricke, who pinch-ran for Hogue, took her spot on second and advanced to third on a ground out by Hannah Caple, a two-time all-tournament selection.
Sophomore Reagan Franzen then hit a deep sacrifice fly to left field to plate Fricke for the eventual game-winner.
Mikayla Houge (27-1), a junior who was named the all-tournament captain for the second year running, then shut the door on the Indians. Hogue recorded her 10th strikeout of the game and 34th of the week for the second out of the inning.
“I made some mistakes early on, but a win is a win,” Houge said. “It’s special to experience two straight championships with this group.
“This feels great … it’s a lot like last year. It was awesome to see that final catch.”
The Spartans dropped their gloves and ran to the pitching rubber after Mikayla Houge, a University of Virginia recruit, got Janet Borchardt out on a deep flyball to left field for their 17th consecutive win of the season.
Mikayla wasn’t only dominant in the circle, she was solid at the plate as well, going 5-for-6 in the tournament with an RBI. Caple was 3-for-8 with five RBI.
“I love these girls,” Caple said. “I wouldn’t want to be here with anybody else.”
Freshman Alexis Houge had an outstanding tournament, going 4-for-7 with six stolen bases. She swiped four bases against the Indians.
“We just kept saying this is a new team and new year,” Alexis said about defending the 1A title. “We knew we had the group to win it.”
C-M scored in the first inning on a bunt single from Ella Kahler, plating Alexis Houge and Kahler scored on an RBI ground out from Capel.
Clarksville’s two early runs came on an RBI-double from Borchardt, plating Cheyenne Behrends and Ainsley Lovrien.
Behrends finished with three hits in the contest. Clarksville pitcher Kori Wedeking (29-2) was the tough luck loser after giving up only four hits. Two of the runs were unearned, after five Clarksville errors.
The Indians’ only two losses of the season were at the hands of the Spartans. Clarksville’s Chloe Ross, Behrends and Wedeking were named to the all-tournament team.
COLLINS-MAXWELL 4, CLARKSVILLE 3
Clarksville 002 001 0 — 3 8 5
Collins-Maxwell 200 002 x — 4 1 4
WP–Mikayla Houge (7IP, 8H, 3ER, 2BB, 10SO); LP–Kori Wedeking (6IP, 4H, 2ER, 1BB, 2SO); LOB–Clarksville 7, Collins-Maxwell 2. 2B–C: Janet Borchardt. SACF–CM: Reagan Franzen; SACB–C: Ainsley Lovrien, Bailey Myers, Chloe Ross; SB–CM: Alexis Houge (4), Avery Fricke.a