For the second year in a row, the North Polk softball team came up just a little short of getting back to being a state qualifier.


After reaching the regional finals last season, North Polk fell in the 2017 Class 3A regional semifinals to top-10 power and eventual state qualifier West Marshall. The Comets lost to the Trojans in an extra-inning battle, letting them know they are on the cusp of taking it to the next level and returning to state for the first time since 2008.


“It was a great season,” North Polk head softball coach Lynette Foster said. “We had some great moments.”


North Polk went 18-13 overall and 11-4 in the Heart of Iowa Conference. Last season, the Comets were 21-13 and 10-5 respectively after winning just 15 games in 2015 and 10 in 2014.


In 2017, North Polk scored 185 runs and hit .301 as a team, with a .377 on-base percentage, .449 slugging average, 45 doubles, five triples, 22 home runs and 50 steals in 62 attempts.


The Comet pitching staff allowed 135 runs with a 3.33 staff earned-run average, 121 strikeouts and 58 walks in 200 innings.


North Polk opened the season hot, winning seven of its first eight games. The Comets knocked off eventual 4A state qualifier Ballard and also defeated South Hamilton, Nevada, Greene County, Gilbert, Roland-Story and East Marshall; their only loss was to rated 4A team in Perry.


From June 2 through June 12, North Polk sputtered a bit, losing five of seven games. The Comets came up short against Des Moines Christian, Des Moines Roosevelt, Collins-Maxwell-Baxter, Saydel and South Hamilton, and they defeated Bondurant-Farrar and Prairie City-Monroe.


North Polk got the momentum going in the right direction from June 14 through June 21. The Comets won seven of nine games, with both of their losses coming to ranked 4A teams.


North Polk defeated Nevada on June 14 and Greene County the following night, then avenged its earlier loss to Perry and whipped Madrid at the Kiwanis Invitational on June 16. The next day saw the Comets fall to Boone in a 2-1 extra-inning battle and to Adel-Desoto-Minburn at the Kiwanis Invite, but they regrouped to blank Gilbert by a 6-0 score two days later, then down Roland-Story on the road June 21.


The Comets dropped four of their next five games with losses to Des Moines Christian, Boone, CMB and Ankeny, with a win over Fort Dodge St. Edmond. But North Polk ended the regular season strong with an 8-3 win over PCM, then knocked off Saydel by a 7-4 score in the 3A regional quarterfinals on July 5.


“Saydel is a great hitting team,” Foster said. “(But) we had it in our heads we could beat them and we did!”


The heartbreaking loss to West Marshall by a 5-4 score ended North Polk’s season on July 7.


Foster said the biggest highlights of the season were the wins over Saydel, Ballard, Perry and PCM and the close loss to Boone. She also stated that the team-bonding camp out was a big positive mark for the team off the diamond.


But most of all, Foster enjoyed the development of her players.


“I enjoyed seeing progress in each player (and) the teaching moments,” Foster said, “watching them understand they need to stop setting limits.”


Individually, North Polk had six players hit over .300 during the season.


Sophomore Carolyn Steffen and senior Rebecca Rimathe were the top power hitters for North Polk.


Steffen hit .380 with a .477 OBP and .685 SA and Rimathe posted respective averages of .375, .429 and .740. Steffen tallied eight doubles, one triple, six homers, 12 walks, 27 runs, 29 RBI and 10 steals and Rimathe ended up with 10 homers, five doubles, 27 runs, 30 RBI, nine walks and three steals.


Playing mostly in the infield, Steffen had 62 assists and 47 putouts defensively. Rimathe totaled 52 putouts and 22 assists, splitting time between the infield and center field.


Freshman Ellie Owen hit .362 with a .432 OBP and .562 SA as the team’s leadoff hitter. Owen connected for 14 doubles, two triples and one home run and she recorded 12 walks, 28 runs, 12 RBI and two steals.


In the infield, Owen made 67 putouts and 49 assists, with only four errors.


Senior Maddy Hill posted a .308 average with one double, one homer, seven runs and 12 RBI. In the outfield Hill made 13 putouts and four assists with no errors.


Eighth-graders Hannah Foster and Sydney Anderson also hit over .300. Foster hit .333 with a .433 OBP and Anderson delivered a .308 average with a .474 SA, four doubles, three home runs, 15 runs and 19 RBI.


Playing mostly at third base, Foster made 39 assists and 25 putouts in the field. Anderson split time in the outfield and at catcher and went error-free with 39 putouts, two assists and one runner thrown out.


Freshman catcher Trisha Sporra and junior first baseman Paige Sandberg were the other Comets to see more than 50 at-bats during the season.


Sporra hit .277 with a .382 OBP, two doubles, one triple, 11 steals, 11 walks, 24 runs and eight RBI. In the field she threw out six runners, made 109 putouts and 21 assists, and only had one error.


Sandberg recorded a .246 average with three doubles, four runs and 12 RBI. She had 189 putouts and nine assists with only three errors defensively.


Pitcher Sophie Swygman had a .255 OBP with two doubles, one homer, three runs and three RBI in 50 at-bats for North Polk.


Abby Hill, Olivia Patterson, Cali Capaldo, Jenna Fagen, Hailey Steffen, Bailey Hougham, Emily Patterson and Rio Monk were the other top varsity contributors for North Polk on offense and in the field.


Hill hit .500 with one double in 10 at-bats and Olivia Patterson hit .455 with three runs and two RBI. Capaldo posted a .267 average with a double, 10 runs, six steals and five RBI and Fagen delivered a .250 average with one double, one triple, 11 runs, four RBI and eight steals.


Hailey Steffen chipped in one double and two runs and RBI apiece and Hougham had a .306 OBP with a double and six RBI. Emily Patterson scored two runs and drove in one and Monk scored four times.


Swygman battled through some back problems to go 15-8 a 2.81 ERA, 102 strikeouts and 31 walks in 157 innings as the top pitcher for North Polk. Hougham was 3-3 with a 4.06 ERA, 18 strikeouts and 23 walks in 31 innings.


Emily Olson and Chloe Dougherty both posted a 7.00 ERA in five innings of work and Alex Drent threw two innings for the Comets.


Rimathe, Hill, Olivia Patterson and Capaldo will be North Polk’s only losses to graduation.


“Rebecca had the most home runs in the conference and was an outstanding hitter and Maddy (provided) great leadership in the outfield,” Lynnette Foster said. “Olivia was the best teammate — great ideas, great leadership and the best coffee maker! Cali could manage a whole team — outstanding with her management and support leadership — very valuable individual.”


With a strong core of hitters back and Swygman returning on the mound, the 2018 season could be a breakthrough year for North Polk.


“I’m hopeful that we will continue to improve and grow,” Lynnette Foster said. “Our bats will be stronger and our pitchers will be more experienced, confident and healthy.”