A tough conference and some young faces in the lineup made the 2017 season a challenge for the Ballard baseball program.

Facing defending state champion Carlisle, eventual state qualifier Bondurant-Farrar and a strong Boone team in the Raccoon River Conference, Ballard had a rough start to the season. But the Bombers regrouped to split their last 26 games, going 15-20 overall and finishing .500 in the RRC at 7-7.

“Although the season was kind of rocky and did not go as planned, the kids never gave up and refused to settle,” Ballard head baseball coach Nick Steenhagen said. “They kept at it all year.”

The season saw ups and downs offensively, on the mound and in the field.

Ballard scored 165 runs, hitting .263 with a .329 slugging average and.375 on-base percentage. The team totaled 43 doubles, five triples, two home runs, 124 walks and 69 steals in 84 chances.

The Bombers gave up 198 runs with a pitching staff earned-run average of 3.89, 204 strikeouts and 99 walks in 219 ⅔ innings. They had a fielding average of .916, with 657 putouts, 235 assists and 82 errors in 974 chances.

“Our biggest weakness was inconsistency,” Steenhagen said. “We struggled to bring the same package each and every night.”

Ballard only won two of its first nine games.

The Bombers opened with a 7-2 victory over Dallas Center-Grimes, lost at Saydel and defeated Ogden by a 6-1 score. Then they dropped six straight, falling to Ames, Indianola, Urbandale, Carlisle, Gilbert and Webster City.

The losing streak came to a close with an impressive 6-5 home win over Bondurant-Farrar on June 5. Gilbert defeated Ballard the next night, the Bombers knocked off Winterset by a 9-1 score on June 7 and they suffered a loss at Perry June 8.

On June 12, Ballard toppled Adel-Desoto-Minburn by an 8-2 score at home to begin its best stretch of the season. The Bombers won six of seven games, blanking Nevada and Carroll by 11-0 and 15-0 scores, losing a tough 2-1 battle to Boone, then downing Atlantic (7-5), Iowa Falls-Alden (12-7) and Collins-Maxwell-Baxter (10-0).

Following the Atlantic win June 17, Ballard got in a great team bonding experience with a trip to the College Baseball World Series.

“Our weekend at the College World Series was huge for us as a team,” Steenhagen said. “We grew the most as a team in terms of closeness. By far the closest, tightest group I’ve ever coached.”

The Bombers lost to Carlisle June 23 and split games at the Prange Classic the following day with a 10-5 win over defending 2A state champion Clear Lake and a loss to Van Meter.

Ballard suffered road losses at Bondurant-Farrar and North Polk; scored home wins over Winterset (6-0) and Perry (5-4). The Bombers dropped a 2-1 heartbreaker to ADM, fell to Pella and then whipped Carroll by an 11-1 score in their final home game July 6 in Slater.

The regular season ended with Ballard suffering three consecutive road losses. The Bombers came up short at Boone, DCG and Grinnell.

But the late skid didn’t carry over into the postseason. Ballard scored a 2-0 victory over Nevada in the 3A district semifinals, thanks to no-hitter by Austin Edwards.

“Our biggest highlight was winning the district game,” Steenhagen said. “Ballard had not won a district game in five years.”

The Bombers saw their season come to a close with an 8-3 loss to eventual state qualifier Saydel in the district finals.

“Although we did not have a winning record or make it further into the postseason, I think the kids will be stronger individuals for it,” Steenhagen said. “We talked a lot about how you learn so much more from a loss than a win. My hope is that we were able to teach the kids something valuable they can use in life. I was proud of the how they just kept battling and never gave up.”

“Overall, I was pleased with the kids’ effort this year,” Steenhagen said. “They are a great group of young men.”

The Bomber coach was proud of the leadership displayed by his senior class, featuring Edwards, Clayton Poots, Cody Ihle and Taylor Roberts.

“The seniors are a very great group of young men that I know will do well in their futures,” Steenhagen said. “We appreciate everything they did for Ballard the last four years and wish them good luck.”

Individually, Ballard was led by Edwards, sophomore Jack Luster, juniors Gannon Manfull, Colin Anderson and Isaac Schafbuch, and freshman Kade Reinertson. All six individuals were given all-RRC recognition.

Edwards hit .344 with a .484 OBP, .462 SA, nine doubles, one triple, 14 runs and 18 RBI. Playing primarily at first base and on the mound, Edwards compiled 142 putouts and 24 assists against six errors.

Luster posted a .415 batting average, .475 OBP, .519 SA, nine doubles, one triple, five steals, 17 runs and a team-high 20 RBI as a first-team all-RRC pick. Defensively, Luster finished with 66 putouts and 48 assists and he threw out four base runners, splitting most of his time between pitcher, catcher and third base.

Manfull hit .299 with a .343 OBP, .402 SA, eight doubles, one triple, seven steals, 20 runs and 12 RBI. With most of his time spent at second base or on the mound, Manfull wound up with 33 putouts and 32 assist in the field.

Reinertson finished with a .263 batting average, .388 OBP, five doubles and five RBI. Behind the plate, he threw out four base runners and only had two errors all season.

Anderson spent most of his time on the mound. He made nine assists and eight putouts defensively and recorded two hits, two walks and one RBI at the plate.

Schafbuch delivered a .264 batting average, .338 OBP, .389 SA, four doubles, one triple, one home run, eight steals, 13 runs and 13 RBI. On defense, he recorded 30 assists and putouts apiece.

Poots had a .287 OBP with one double and 17 RBI. In the field, he made 57 putouts and 37 assists.

Roberts tallied a .315 OBP with one double, a team-high 12 steals and 20 runs. Defensively, he finished with 12 assists and eight putouts.

Ihle tallied a .306 OBP with one double, run and RBI apiece in 31 at-bats. He also made 20 putouts and one assist in the field.

Juniors Codey Erickson and Tanner Brock, and sophomore Reece Huen were Ballard’s other varsity regulars.

Erickson registered a .375 OBP with one double, 11 steals, seven RBI and a team-best 21 runs. In the field he finished with 14 assists and 10 putouts.

Brock hit .234 with a .463 OBP, 18 walks, two doubles, six steals, 16 runs and seven RBI. In the field he made 29 putouts and three assists with no errors.

Huen compiled a .299 batting average with a .386 OBP, .379 SA, two doubles, one triple, one home run, nine steals, 18 runs and 19 RBI. In the field he produced 42 putouts and one assist.

Sophomore Brooks Fleischmann added 40 putouts for Ballard on defense. Junior Clay Estrem scored 10 runs and made five assists and four putouts and junior Will Stadler also made four putouts on defense.

Junior Hersch Maxey chipped in six runs and two RBI for the Bombers.

Luster, Edwards and Anderson were the top arms on the mound for Ballard.

Luster went 5-3 with a 3.02 ERA, 43 strikeouts and 19 walks in 55 ⅔ innings and Anderson finished 4-3 with a 3.37 ERA, 61 strikeouts and 20 walks in 45 ⅔ innings. Anderson ended up 1-5 with a 2.93 ERA, 46 strikeouts and 16 walks in 43 innings.

Poots emerged as a strong force at pitcher during the second half of the season. He led Ballard with a 1.88 ERA, going 2-2 with 13 strikeouts and just one walk in 22 ⅓ innings.

Manfull was Ballard’s other regular throwing arm. He tossed 31 innings, finishing 3-3 with a 6.55 ERA, 24 strikeouts and 15 walks.

Roberts posted a 4.00 ERA in seven innings, Schafbuch registered a 3.50 ERA in six innings and Maxey threw 5 ⅔ innings.

Ballard returns most of its talent next season. That gives the Bombers a good shot at achieving a winning season and making a deeper postseason run.

“We are very excited about next season,” Steenhagen said. “ We will have a lot of guys with experience returning that will be able to fill many different spots. I think what we learned this year will be fuel for next year, and I believe the kids will be very motivated.