Ballard showed it is a baseball program on the rise after posting a winning record and placing second in the Raccoon River Conference in 2018.
Ballard went 16-12 overall and 9-5 in the RRC. In 2017, the Bombers finished 15-20 and 7-7 respectively.
“The biggest keys were the kids’ commitment in the off-season and their commitment to each other,” Ballard head baseball coach Nick Steenhagen said of his program’s improvement. “They really bought into team baseball and played for each other instead themselves and their stats.”
The season started with Ballard going through a bit of a rough patch against larger schools. The Bombers dropped five of their first games, defeating Dallas Center-Grimes (3-1), Ogden (4-2) and Woodward-Granger (4-2) and losing to Saydel (5-3), Ames (5-4), Urbandale (4-0), Carlisle (3-1) and Johnston (7-1).
On June 4, Ballard began to turn its season around with a 9-2 win to eventual 3A state qualifier Bondurant-Farrar. In its next four games, Ballard defeated Gilbert (14-7), fell to Perry (7-6), won at Nevada (7-4) and crushed Carroll (16-1).
The highlight of the year for Ballard came on June 15 at Boone. The Bombers came back from a 6-1 deficit to defeat the Toreadors 10-8 in 12 innings.
Ballard followed up the big Boone win with a 2-1 victory over Winterset, then suffered a 5-2 setback to eventual RRC champion and 3A state qualifier Carlisle. The Bombers completed a season sweep of Bondurant-Farrar with a 7-6 victory on June 25, then won at Winterset (6-3) and at Perry (12-2) to give them nine wins in 12 games.
The Bombers hit a snag on July 2, losing both games of a doubleheader with Adel-Desoto-Minburn by scores of 4-3 and 1-0. They quickly regrouped to rally past Pella (9-4), hammer Carroll (11-4) and complete a sweep of Boone — an eventual state qualifier — with an 8-2 triumph over the Toreadors.
Ballard ended the regular season with non-conference losses to DCG (9-2) and Grinnell (3-0).
In the Class 3A district competition, Ballard opened with Nevada in the semifinals at Oskaloosa. The Bombers did what they had done throughout the regular season, coming on strong late to rally for an 8-3 victory.
Ballard faced off against Oskaloosa in the district finals. The Bombers put up a tremendous fight before succumbing in a 10-9 slugfest to finish the season.
“Overall, I was very happy with how the season went,” Steenhagen said. “We would, of course, loved to have played longer. But the kids ground it out in every game. They came to the field every day and worked hard. Very proud of their efforts.”
The Bombers’ mantra for the season was never giving up.
A tough attitude helped Ballard outscore foes 32-7 in the seventh inning and 5-2 in extra innings. That enabled the Bombers to earn their winning record, facing a schedule that included eight games against state qualifiers.
“The season can really be a grind,” Steenhagen said. “At times you have to have little mental check-ups to ensure that you are still on track.”
Ballard put up 161 runs, hitting .314 with a .382 on-base percentage and .381 slugging average. The Bombers totaled 35 doubles, four triples, four homers and 65 walks, and they stole 59 bases in 67 attempts.
Despite playing in seven fewer games than in 2017, Ballard scored only four fewer runs than a year ago.
“The kids bought into the ‘get the next guy up’ mentality and started believing in passing the bat,” Steenhagen said. “Each guy started to have the approach in the box that their job was to get the next man up and nothing else. This was huge to our success.”
Defensively, Ballard had a .930 fielding percentage — 578 putouts and 177 assists against 57 errors in 812 chances. The Bombers also caught 10 runners stealing.
Junior third baseman/catcher Jack Luster, freshman second baseman Sam Petersen, junior infielder Cody Wolfe, senior outfielder Will Stalder, sophomore catcher Kade Reinertson, junior outfielder Reece Huen and senior center fielder Isaac Schafbuch all hit over .300 for Ballard.
Luster posted a .406 batting average, .468 OBP, .510 slugging average, eight doubles, one triple, seven steals, 22 runs and 21 RBIs. He made 44 putouts and 36 assists and threw out one base runner defensively.
Petersen also hit .406 with a .513 OBP and .625 slugging average. He connected on five doubles and three home runs and had eight steals, 19 runs and 20 RBIs.
On defense, Petersen made 37 putouts and 22 assists.
Wolfe delivered a .382 batting average, .433 OBP, .461 slugging average, four doubles, one home run, eight steals, 14 runs and 24 RBIs. In the field, he had 31 putouts and 14 assists.
Stalder tallied a .370 batting average, .396 OBP, .391 slugging average, one double and 11 runs. He made five putouts and two assists in the field.
Reinertson hit .322 with a .384 OBP, .333 slugging average, one double and 13 RBIs. Behind the plate, he threw out nine base runners and made 144 putouts and 16 assists with only three errors.
Huen put up a .311 batting average, .364 OBP, .322 slugging average, six sacrifices, five steals, one double, 21 runs and seven RBIs. He played error-free ball on defense with 34 putouts and two assists.
Schafbuch delivered a .303 batting average, .361 OBP, .427 slugging average, 13 steals, seven doubles, two triples, 19 runs and 15 RBIs. He had 57 putouts and one assist in the field.
Senior Tanner Brock tallied a .293 batting average, .389 OBP, .360 slugging average, 11 walks, three doubles, one triple, 13 runs and 14 RBIs. He went without an error in the field, recording 45 putouts and one assist.
Senior shortstop Gannon Manfull hit .247 with a .273 OBP, .301 slugging average, four doubles, six runs and 14 RBIs. He totaled 45 assists and 29 putouts on defense.
Seniors Nolan Payne, Codey Erickson and Clay Estrem were the other Bombers to get double-digit at-bats.
Payne recorded a .280 OBP with six runs and seven RBIs, and he had 122 putouts and five assists playing primarily at first base. Erickson had a .333 OBP with three runs and two RBIs on offense and 13 assists and nine putouts with one error on defense.
Estrem had a .250 OBP with a double, four steals and 11 runs at the plate and he made seven putouts and six assists in the field.
The Bomber pitching staff surrendered 115 runs with a staff earned-run average of 2.74 with 154 strikeouts and 83 walks in 194 innings. Those were big improvements from last year, when Ballard gave up 198 runs with a 3.89 ERA.
Sophomore Nic Edwards and senior Colin Anderson were the most consistent hurlers for Ballard during the season.
Edwards went a perfect 5-0 with a 1.46 ERA, 32 strikeouts and 19 walks in 33 ⅔ innings. Anderson was 7-2 with a 1.81 ERA, 43 strikeouts and 19 walks in a team-high 54 innings of work.
Wolfe went 3-2 with a 3.06 ERA, 26 strikeouts and 17 walks in 34 ⅓ innings. Luster was 0-5 with a 4.80 ERA, 36 strikeouts and 12 walks in 46 ⅔ innings.
Manfull was the team’s top relief pitcher. He was 0-2 with three saves, 10 strikeouts, five walks and a strong 1.87 ERA in 15 innings.
Schafbuch was 1-1 with a 4.42 ERA in 6 ⅓ innings, Stalder threw three innings and Hersch Maxey got in one inning of work.
Replacing Anderson, Manfull, Estrem, Brock, Erickson, Payne, Stalder, Schafbuch, Maxey and other seniors Evan Heggen and Logan Volkmann won’t be easy next season. But Steenhagen is excited to see if his team can continue to take big steps forward in 2019.
“We are very excited about next season, as we will have a lot of returning starters and other guys ready to fill in,” Steenhagen said. “We think we will again compete in the RRC and make it further in the (postseason).”