For coach Alan Jones and the Ballard softball team, 2011 was supposed to be a rebuilding year.
“When I saw we were ranked seventh in the state (in a preseason poll), I laughed,” said Jones. “I said, ‘We’re too young.’”
But after a 14-4 start and the emergence of some young talent, the laughter has subsided.
The Bruins, who lost five key players from last year’s 35-5 team, are currently ranked No. 2 in the state and have turned to players like sophomore left fielder Bailey Walker to fill the void.
The speedy leadoff hitter is batting over .600 with three home runs.
“I never expected to be where I am today,” said Walker. “It’s a lot more responsibility than I thought I would have as a sophomore.”
Eighth grader stars
Along with Walker, Allison Wiseman, an eighth grader, has been impressive on the mound. Undefeated as a starter, she’s 3-0 and boasts a .054 ERA in five appearances.
The young squad got an early test when they traveled to the Bob Jones Invitational (AL) tournament over spring break.
The 48-team tournament featured several of the nation’s best programs and the Bruins placed eighth with an impressive 4-1 record.
“I was scared going down there, but we did remarkably well,” said Walker. “We really matured as a team.”
Senior Kayla Fairley, one of the state’s top pitchers with an ERA of .085, has been impressed by the youngsters. “They stepped up in less than a month and have been awesome,” she said.
In his 11th season at Ballard, Jones is no stranger to success. Winners of the last ten District 27 titles and regional champs in ’05 and ’08, the Bruins have a 311-89 record since Jones’ arrival in 1999.
Ballard Athletics Director, Chris Kinney, credits Jones for the team’s success. “He is a master at developing talent. He is constantly pushing the girls to become the best that they can possibly be,” said Kinney.
Ballard didn’t become one of the state’s best programs overnight, however. “When I first got here we really had nothing,” said Jones. “I asked (former principal) Sandy Allen, ‘Will you let me build what I want to build?’ ”
Her response: “Absolutely.”
Since that conversation in 1999, Allen has overseen the construction of a new field, press box, bleachers and an indoor facility.
“He has turned our program into a powerhouse both on the state and national level,” said Kinney. “He would truly do anything for the girls and it shows both on and off the field.”
Jones also takes pride in his players’ accomplishments beyond high school. “Watching a kid develop … and seeing them go on and have a great future is the best thing about coaching these kids,” said Jones.
One player who certainly has a bright future is junior shortstop Madison Wise, who has been a part of the program since sixth grade. She is batting over .500 with two home runs.
“She’s a smart ballplayer who works very hard,” said Jones. “She understands the game and is one of our best players out there.”
Wise is the team’s vocal leader and her level-headed approach comes through when she speaks about her hopes for the rest of the season, “(My goal) is not really to win the region or get to State. It’s more internal – to make sure that everyone is having a good time.”
“If we keep that up then we can go as far as we want,” said Wise.
While Wise may not be dwelling on the postseason, some of her teammates can’t help but look forward to a potential re-match with 7th region powerhouse Mercy. The Jaguars (6-5) are ranked No. 3 in the state and put an end to the Bruins’ season last year with an 11-2 victory in the regional tournament.
“If we keep improving,” said Fairley “we have a very good chance to beat them this year.“
- Mercy heads to Male (10-1) on Thursday to take on the eighth-ranked Bulldogs at 5 p.m. in what could be a preview of the District 25 championship game. Male is off to its best start in program history.
- Ballard travels to play archrival Eastern (4-3) Wednesday, April 20, at 7 p.m.