Bombers also improve pitching in 17-16 campaign

The 2013 season was bittersweet for the Ballard baseball team as the Bombers came up just short in several games against top-level opponents, but still managed to outperform last year’s team.

Ballard posted a winning 17-16 overall after going 15-19-1 in 2012. The Bombers finished this season at 5-11 in the Raccoon River Conference.

The Bombers scored more runs and allowed fewer than they did a year ago, thanks to better depth in the lineup and on the pitching staff. But they still lacked consistency and focus at times, which hurt against quality foes.

"It was a very frustrating season," Ballard head coach John Cisna said. "We hit the ball well and pitched well, but our defense was the mitigating factor that controlled our season. Saying that, we were better than last year and much improved despite our defensive challenges."

The season began well. Ballard knocked off eventual Class 2A state semifinalist Roland-Story by a 2-1 score in its opener, then downed Ogden, crushed Madrid and edged Pella Christian to get off to a 4-0 start.

Carlisle handed the Bombers a 3-1 loss in their RRC opener, but they came back to whip South Hamilton. Bondurant-Farrar and Winterset both defeated the Bombers in conference play, but Ballard scored a 6-0 victory over Perry on June 6 for their first conference victory.

The next game saw Ballard suffer the first of five one or two-run setbacks against a foe either ranked or an eventual state qualifier as the Bombers were handed a 2-1 loss at Adel-Desoto-Minburn. The next day, Ballard hammered non-conference rival Nevada by a 13-3 score at home and they won an 11-8 slugfest at Carroll the following night.

On June 15 the Bombers split two games at the Ballard Invitational at Nite Hawk Field in Slater. They scored another impressive win over Nevada, this time by a 14-6 margin, but also suffered a 14-5 loss at the hands of Gilbert.

Ballard’s second close call against a powerful opponent came on June 17, when the Bombers traveled to Grimes and suffered a 4-3 setback at the hands of a Dallas Center-Grimes team that made its way to the state tournament in 3A.

On June 20 the Bombers scored a 14-3 win over an overmatched Collins-Maxwell-Baxter team, and they suffered a loss at Carlisle the next day. June 25 pitted Ballard against non-conference rival North Polk.

The Bombers again played a powerhouse foe tough before losing to the two-time 2A state runners-up by a 4-2 score in Alleman.

Ballard responded to the close setback to the Comets with a three game winning streak. The Bombers avenged an earlier loss to Winterset, completed a sweep of Perry by winning an 11-10 squeaker and then scored their biggest conference win with a 7-3 victory over eventual state qualifier Boone.

Kuemper Catholic – a 2A state semifinalist – downed Ballard on June 29 and July 1 saw the Bombers suffer another one-run loss to ADM, this time by a 5-4 score.

The Bombers decimated West Marshall by a 17-3 score at home on July 3. Boone defeated Ballard, 3-0, on July 5 and three days later, the Bombers were handed a 10-4 loss by Bondurant-Farrar.

Ballard picked up a 5-4 win at Woodward-Granger on July 9, but the roughest stretch of the season was just around the corner.

On July 10 Ballard was handed another heartbreaker by DCG, this time by a 2-1 score. Two days later, Carroll rolled past Ballard by a 13-5 margin and on July 13, the Bombers had their worst outing all season in an 18-0 loss to 4A power Urbandale.

Ballard recovered to end the regular season on a positive note. The Bombers won their final home game by a 4-1 score over South Tama, then edged Saydel on the road by a 5-4 score.

"We grew the most in our ability to be able to come back," Cisna said. "We knew if we were within four runs in any game that, due to our offensive abilities, we could still win. We came from behind in several games and ended up winning."

But the positive momentum didn’t carry into the postseason. Ballard dropped its 3A district opener against Knoxville in a 6-5 heartbreaker.

Cisna said the biggest highlights of the season for his team were two walk-off grand slams.

On offense, Ballard scored 206 runs on a .318 batting average with 44 doubles, three triples and 11 home runs. The Bombers also stole 60 bases in 76 attempts, drew 94 walks and finished with an on-base average of .397 and a .411 slugging average.

Last year Ballard hit .270 with 161 runs, playing in two more games.

Seven different regulars hit over .300 for Ballard on the season.

Catcher Kenny Randolph led the way with a .429 batting average during the regular season. The district game stats versus Knoxville were not available at press time.

Randolph also hit three doubles and drove in 13 runs in his sophomore year.

Senior shortstop Taylor Bridgewater was the top all-around performer on offense. Bridgewater hit .415 during the regular season with a .559 slugging average, 11 doubles, two home runs, 34 runs, 22 RBI, 11 walks and 11 steals.

Collin Fopma just missed the .400 mark with a .396 average. The senior outfielder smacked eight doubles and finished with 23 runs and 19 RBI.

Mitchell Broer provided a huge spot at the bottom of the batting order. Broer hit .339 with a team-best .576 slugging average and four home runs – two coming in the first win over Nevada – and he also scored 16 times and knocked in 20 runs.

Kordell Lettow registered a .336 average with four doubles, one triple and two home runs. The senior first baseman also scored 25 runs and led the team with 23 RBI.

Third baseman Jacob Bernholtz posted a .316 average with four doubles, one triple, one home run, 10 sacrifice hits and 21 runs and RBI apiece as a senior. Junior outfielder Jacob Nethers hit .302 with six doubles, one triple, 18 runs and 19 RBI.

Senior Ryan Vincent split time with Randolph at catcher. He hit .273 with two doubles and eight RBI.

Matthew Poots posted a .286 average with nine RBI and eight runs in 28 at-bats. Chris Neville had a .286 on-base average with two home runs, 16 runs and 12 RBI. Spencer Struve delivered a .273 on-base average with six runs as the other top part-time contributor at the plate and on the base paths.

The Bomber pitching staff allowed 179 runs after giving up 194 last year. They posted a .334 regular-season earned-run average with 216 strikeouts and 117 walks in 211 2/3 innings.

Junior Coy Baker was the ace of the staff. Baker went 5-5 in the regular season with a strong 1.96 ERA and 92 strikeouts against 33 walks in 71 1/3 innings.

Two more juniors, Nick Hartman and Lane Volkman, threw over 40 innings.

Hartman finished 4-2 with a 2.91 ERA, 64 strikeouts and 28 walks in 43 1/3 innings. Volkman went 3-5 with a 4.25 ERA, 33 strikeouts and 30 walks in 46 innings.

Sophomore Landon Manfull stepped in to help fill the void left by his older brother Brennan – last year’s Bomber ace who racked up an impressive 124 strikeouts in 68 1/3 innings in 2012. Landon went 4-1 with a 3.27 ERA, 17 strikeouts and just eight walks in 30 innings this season.

Lettow was the only other Bomber to throw more than two innings. He went 1-1 with a 3.18 ERA in 11 innings.

Defensively, Ballard had a sub-par fielding average of .918 with 95 errors in 1,163 chances during the regular season. Last year, the Bombers had 88 errors in 1,121 chances.

Ballard must replace seven seniors next year in Bridgewater, Bernholtz, Lettow, Fopma, Neville, Vincent and Drew Ward.

"Our six seniors that started accounted for a combined .346 batting average and their attitudes were always positive throughout the year," Cisna said. "Their graduation leaves big holes to fill."

But 2014 still has things looking up for Cisna and the Bombers. They still have plenty of firepower coming back at the plate, plus all of their top pitchers returning.

"We have a good group of underclassmen, and the JV and freshman team together lost only six games all year, so we have a lot of potential coming up," Cisna said. "Every pitcher comes back, including Coy, who led the conference in ERA and strikeouts. With a much-improved defense, we have the capability of improving on our record next year."