NP goes 19-11 in Dillinger’s final year

Improvement in all areas of play helped the North Polk softball team outdo its 2012 record and earn a conference championship in 2013.

In the final season of legendary head coach Rick Dillinger, the Comets went 19-11 overall after going 20-16 a year ago. The Comets finished in a three-way tie with Greene County and Prairie City-Monroe for the Heart of Iowa Conference title with a 13-5 record, which bested last year’s 11-5 conference mark.

To Dillinger’s delight, North Polk outperformed last year’s team in every phase of the game.

That helped the Comets score some big wins over quality opponents. They were also just a break here and there from finishing around the 25-win mark, since six of their losses came by one run.

"I think we came a long way," Dillinger said. "We hit the ball better and really bunted a lot better – our small ball game really got better. More experience gave them a better understanding of the game and we were able to stay more focused defensively. There were a lot of aspects the kids improved on."

North Polk opened the season with victories over South Hamilton and Colfax-Mingo by 8-2 and 6-4 scores respectively, before falling to eventual Class 3A third-place finisher Sergeant Bluff-Luton, 11-6. The Comets then reeled off nine wins over their next 11 games to get rated as high as 13th in 3A.

The Comets scored impressive victories over PCM and Boone, and their biggest win was over non-conference rival Ballard at the Kiwanis Invitational at Roland June 13. North Polk scored a 5-3 victory over a Bomber team rated in the top 10 in 4A and the defending 3A state champions.

North Polk’s hot streak took a brief hit on June 18 when the Comets were unexpectedly swept in a doubleheader at home by Collins-Maxwell-Baxter. But the very next day, North Polk swept Roland-Story in two games and they followed that with victories over Saydel, Gilbert and Nevada.

Saydel defeated North Polk by a 4-3 score on June 27 and the Comets went 1-3 at a tournament in Solon to close out the month of June.

July opened with North Polk avenging an earlier loss to Greene County. But the Comets ended the regular season with a tough 2-1 setback against PCM.

The Comets opened 3A regional play July 9 with an 11-5 victory at home over Roland-Story. But their dreams of returning to state for the first time since winning the 2A title in 2008 were dashed by PCM in the semifinals as they were handed a 9-4 loss by the Mustangs.

"The biggest highlight is that we ended up tying for the conference title," Dillinger said. "Being able to accomplish that was a big sign of success."

Offensively, North Polk scored 191 runs and hit .306 with 40 doubles, four triples and 42 steals. The Comets posted a .371 on-base average and .369 slugging average and they swiped 42 bases in 45 attempts.

Last season North Polk hit .302, scored 182 runs and stole 33 bases in 46 attempts playing six more games.

In the field North Polk recorded a .939 fielding average with 58 errors, and catchers Makayla Burt and Reilly Franzen combined to throw out six runners. Last year North Polk had 68 errors and a .936 fielding average, and the Comets only threw out three base runners.

Burt, Rebecca Sieve, Lilly Lomica, Macy Gill and Brandi Rose all hit over .300 this season for the Comets.

Burt hit .393 with a .443 on-base average and .483 slugging mark. She smacked eight doubles, drove in a team-high 26 runs and scored 13.

Defensively, Burt handled most of the catching duties. She threw out five runners and had just two errors on the season.

Sieve posted a .365 average with .426 on-base and .471 slugging marks. She connected on a team-best nine doubles and added 22 RBI.

On defense, Sieve finished with a .964 fielding average as the starting pitcher and part-time first baseman.

Lomica hit .352 with a .438 on-base average, two doubles, one triple, 13 steals, 29 runs and 15 RBI. At shortstop she recorded 74 assists and 33 putouts.

Gill gave the team a spark as an eighth-grader in her first varsity season.

Gill hit .326 with five doubles, one triple, 27 runs and 16 RBI. She also led the team in steals with 17 and finished with just three errors at second base.

Rose recorded a .325 average with six doubles, one triple and 19 runs and RBI apiece in her final season. She also made 60 assists and 20 putouts at third base.

Mallory McDonald, Franzen and Audrey Ley all hit over .240 for North Polk.

McDonald returned from a back injury that kept her out last season to hit .288 with two doubles, one triple, 18 runs and 16 RBI. McDonald also led the team in sacrifice hits with 14 and in the field, she recorded a .974 fielding average as the team’s first baseman and a part-time pitcher.

Franzen posted a .250 average with two doubles and 11 runs and RBI apiece. Franzen threw one runner out in two attempts in her limited time behind the plate, before moving to center field to help the team.

In center field Franzen provided a big spark as she finished with just two errors and five assists defensively.

Ley had a productive year as a freshman. She hit .272 with three doubles, 19 runs and 15 RBI and also managed 16 putouts on defense.

Sophomore Carly Madson was North Polk’s other regular starter. Madson made 28 putouts, 16 assists and only three errors on defense and she hit .203 with 12 runs, 11 walks and seven RBI.

Eighth-grader Rebecca Rimathe hit .300 with four RBI in 10 at-bats and she also scored seven runs. Junior Bekah Ward scored 16 runs as the team’s top courtesy runner.

Sieve handled most of the work on the mound. She turned in a great senior season by going 17-9 with 83 strikeouts, 27 walks and a 1.39 earned-run average in 168 innings to earn unanimous all-HOIC honors.

Last season Sieve finished 14-12 with a 2.98 ERA, 71 strikeouts and 44 walks in 162 innings.

"Rebecca really spent a lot of time in the gym working on pitching," Dillinger said. "That’s the key for a kid who wants to pitch. You’ve got to put the time in and it was nice to see her get rewarded with a pretty good senior season."

McDonald made four starts and went 2-2 with a 5.43 ERA, 10 strikeouts and nine walks in 19 1/3 innings. As a team, North Polk surrendered 112 runs after allowing 154 last year.

This year’s senior class had to through a major rebuilding phase after the program lost so much talent from a 2005-09 run that produced four state tournament appearances and a pair of state titles. Dillinger credited the seniors with putting in a lot of work to have the program back among the best in the HOIC by the time they left.

"It was a tough group to see graduate, as a lot of them have played four or five years," Dillinger said. "They treated the game with respect and played it correctly."

With the departure of Rose, McDonald, Franzen and Sieve coinciding with Dillinger’s retirement, a whole new era will begin for North Polk in 2014. Dillinger said the program will be fine without him.

"There’s something to build around next year," Dillinger said. "The coaches in junior high do a good job of developing kids to come up and help the varsity. It’s going to be OK."