If it couldn’t stop the program from ending, the Collins-Maxwell-Baxter baseball team was going to make sure it went out the right way.
CMB entered the 2017 season coming off a magical ride to the state tournament the previous year. The Raiders knew it would be a long shot to make it back to Principal Park without the arm of all-state superstar pitcher Brady Stover and some other key contributors off the 2016 squad.
But with the Collins-Maxwell and Baxter high schools ending their sports sharing agreement at the conclusion of the 2017 campaign, CMB was still determined to make its last season a memorable one.
And the Raiders certainly went down fighting, pulling off a major upset at the end of the regular season, then earning a postseason victory for the third year in a row before bowing out for good in the Class 2A district semifinals.
“I am so proud of my guys (for dealing with) the adversity we had to deal with,” CMB head baseball coach Max Seeman said. “It takes a special type of young man to give his all when most games don’t go our way, but we had a great group of guys that wanted to do anything possible to keep CMB alive for a little bit longer. You would pressed to find a better group of people to be the final representative of CMB athletics.”
With a young pitching staff and limited varsity experience, CMB was overmatched for much of the season. The Raiders finished 5-21 overall and 2-14 in the Heart of Iowa Conference.
“We knew going into this season that we would struggle at times, whether it be due to numbers or the level of competition,” Seeman said. “But I can honestly say that we were a much better team at the end of the season than we were at the beginning, and even in the middle of it.”
The season began with CMB falling to Nevada and Greene County at home. But the Raiders picked up a big early highlight by knocking off Heart of Iowa Conference power Roland-Story, 5-2, May 26 at Story City.
From May 30 through June 5 CMB dropped four straight against Prairie City-Monroe, Saydel, Gilbert and North Polk. The Raiders snapped their short drought with a 3-2 HOIC victory over South Hamilton in Collins on June 7.
CMB fell to Colo-Nesco and West Marshall on June 10, then dropped HOIC games to Nevada, Greene County and Roland-Story. At the Rose Festival Tournament June 17, CMB again came up short against West Marshall, but the Raiders also pulled off a convincing 16-6 win over Greene County.
The Raiders entered a rough stretch from June 19-29 with a loss at PCM. CMB also fell to Colfax-Mingo, Ballard and the top three HOIC teams in Gilbert, Saydel and North Polk during that period.
On June 30, CMB played the final home game in the history of the program at Collins. The Raiders made it count in a big way, knocking off a Woodward-Granger team that was rated No. 4 in 2A by a 7-5 score.
CMB ended the regular season with losses to Madrid and South Hamilton. But when 2A districts began, the Raiders found they had retained a little bit of the previous season’s magic.
On July 8, CMB traveled to Ogden for the 2A district quarterfinals. They knocked off a favored Ogden team in district play for the third season in a row with a 3-2 triumph.
The victory pitted CMB against a powerful Van Meter squad in the district semifinals July 11 at Van Meter. The Raiders didn’t have the firepower to hang with the Bulldogs, but they managed to keep within striking distance all night before succumbing by a 5-0 margin.
“I know several guys felt some added pressure being the last CMB team alive,” Seeman said. “CMB has meant so much to each one of us that we wanted to keep it going for as long as possible. After our loss to Van Meter, you could just tell how much CMB meant to each one of us and the impact that being a part of CMB has had on all of us.”
“I don’t think any of us knew just how emotional it was going to be when it did finally come to an end,” Seeman said. “I will never forget the talk we had after that final game or the looks on all of their faces. As emotional as that was, it is an exciting time for each district and the new adventure they will be embarking on this fall.”
For the season, CMB scored 88 runs, hitting .209 with a .341 on-base percentage, .248 slugging average, 15 doubles, three home runs, 102 walks and 45 steals in 49 attempts. The Raiders gave up 230 runs with a pitching staff earned-run average of 7.24, 113 strikeouts and 108 walks in 155 ⅔ innings.
In the field, CMB produced an .890 fielding percentage with 455 putouts, 149 assists and 75 errors in 679 chances.
Seniors Brady Kemp, Creighton Caple, Brady Ross and Tucker Maxwell, junior Travis Lindemoen and freshman Cole Damman all hit over .200 for CMB at the plate.
Kemp finished with .354 with a .414 OBP, .557 SA, seven doubles, three home runs, five steals, 16 runs and 18 RBI. Playing multiple infield positions, including catcher, Kemp made 91 putouts and 20 assists against just six errors, and he also threw out two base runners.
Caple posted a .340 batting average with a .455 OBP, .377 SA, seven steals, two doubles, nine runs and five RBI. Playing primarily at first base and on the mound, Caple totaled 89 putouts and five assists with just three errors.
Ross tallied a .231 batting average with a .425 OBP, 20 walks, one double, 17 runs and four RBI. In the field, he finished with 32 putouts and 25 assists.
Maxwell completed the season with a .209 batting average, .361 OBP, 14 walks, six steals, one double, nine runs and five RBI. Defensively, Maxwell came up with 45 putouts and four assists.
Lindemoen hit .237 with a .333 OBP, 10 walks, a team-high 13 steals, 11 runs and two RBI. On defense, he made 66 putouts and 19 assists and led the team with four runners thrown out from behind the plate.
Damman ended up with a .246 batting average, .365 OBP, five steals, one double and six runs and RBI apiece. In the field, he recorded 27 assists and 26 putouts.
Sophomores Ian Thomson and Andrew Esqueda did a solid job reaching base in limited plate appearances for CMB. Thomson finished with a .381 OBP, four runs and two RBI in 15 at-bats and Esqueda had a .357 OBP in 10 at-bats.
Sophomore Derek Klemme totaled six runs and five RBI and junior Bryce Bacon stole five bases, doubled twice and picked up four runs and RBI apiece. Senior Adam Smith finished with four hits and three runs, freshman Carter Nelsen racked up four walks, three hits — including one double — and one run and RBI apiece and freshman Jordan Barrett drew one walk.
Lindemoen, Nelsen, Kemp and Caple were the top CMB pitchers. Lindemoen threw 31 ⅓ innings, Nelsen and Kemp logged 30 innings apiece and Caple tossed 21 ⅔.
Lindemoen went 3-4 with a 5.59 ERA, 35 strikeouts and 17 walks and Nelsen was 1-3 with a 4.67 ERA, 20 walks and nine strikeouts. Kemp ended up 0-6 with a 7.23 ERA, 23 strikeouts and 11 walks and Caple finished 0-2 with a 4.52 ERA, 20 strikeouts, nine walks and three saves.
Thomson earned CMB’s other win as he was 1-0 with four strikeouts, one walk and no earned runs allowed in five innings. Maxwell was 0-4 with eight strikeouts in 13 ⅔ innings and Bacon picked up five strikeouts in 10 ⅓ innings.
Klemme threw seven innings, Damman 4 ⅓, Smith 1 ⅓ and Ross one.
Kemp, Caple, Ross, Maxwell and Smith gave CMB an excellent final senior class, according to Seeman.
“This senior class has seen the good and the bad of CMB baseball,” Seeman said. “Many of them were with me towards the beginning of my time as the head coach and they were all obviously part of the end.”
“Having five out of 13 players be seniors meant leadership was never an issue for us this year,” Seeman said. “These seniors have been part of a single digit win season, as well as a state qualifying season, so them having those experiences made them great guys to be around all summer.”
Seeman has accepted the athletic director and physical education teaching positions at Martensdale St. Marys. The returning CMB players will be starting from scratch as they split into either Baxter or Collins-Maxwell for the 2018 season.
“I hope each district has enough players to field a varsity team,” Seeman said. “Baxter will have several guys returning who have varsity playing experience in a tough conference, so that will help them as Bolts in the Iowa Star. Collins-Maxwell will only have one player returning with any high school baseball experience, so I hope he will be a leader for the Spartans and get more players go out next year, because every guy deserves the chance to play ball for his school.”