Being a first-year program with a roster filled with eight-graders and freshmen, the Collins-Maxwell baseball team was often a punching bag for its opposition.

The Spartans finished 1-17 and went 0-14 in the Iowa Star Conference, placing last in the South Division. Of those 17 losses, 14 came by 10 runs or more.

After not being able to field a team in 2018, Collins-Maxwell got up to 17 players on the roster this season. But six were freshmen and nine were only eighth-graders.

With so many young players and the program having to start from scratch, the season was a challenge to say the least.

“They knew coming into the season that it was going to be rough and yet they showed up night after night, ready to compete,” Collins-Maxwell head coach Steve Lewis said. “We may not have always done things the right way, but the boys really played hard and grew as the season went on.”

The Spartans’ most competitive games during the regular season were 11-6 and 6-0 setbacks to Colo-NESCO and a 7-0 home loss to rival Baxter.

Losing every game of the regular season by a large margin gave Collins-Maxwell a reason to just accept its fate in the first round of Class 1A district play. The Spartans went up against a Dunkerton team that only had two wins, but had whipped them by a 15-5 score earlier in the season.

On July 11, none of that mattered.

“I had told the guys that we very much had a chance to win this game,” Lewis said. “We had not fared well against them earlier in the season. But I did believe that if we threw our two best pitchers at them that we had an excellent chance to win.”

Jace Huntrods got the start for Collins-Maxwell against Dunkerton in the district opener. He threw six strong innings to help Collins-Maxwell take a 3-2 lead into the seventh inning.

Caleb Dvorak had the big hit for the Spartans with a two-run single in the top of the fifth. Dunkerton scored its first run on an error in the second inning, then countered Dvorak’s big base knock with a run in the bottom of the fifth.

Huntrods struck out eight batters and only walked two to put his team in position to win going into the seventh.

Wes Kahler came in to pitch in the bottom of the seventh. But Dunkerton managed to get one run across off him to tie the game and force extra innings.

That run could’ve been a backbreaker for a team not used to being in competitive games, let alone winning them.

But Collins-Maxwell didn’t get frazzled. The Spartans stepped up huge in the top of the eighth by pushing two runs across the plate.

In the bottom of the eighth Kahler clamped down on the Dunkerton hitters, keeping the Raiders off the board to secure the historic 5-3 win for his team.

“Hands down, our biggest highlight was beating Dunkerton at Dunkerton,” Lewis said. “Seeing how happy they were after that win — that was priceless.”

Collins-Maxwell’s reward for defeating Dunkerton was getting to face No. 6 Don Bosco in the district quarterfinals. The Spartans were overpowered by the Dons by a 31-0 score to end the season.

But the win over Dunkerton gives the rest of the team hope that things will only get better in 2020 and beyond.

“I think that we can take this learning season and build on it for next year,” Lewis said. “We lose one senior and return the rest of our team. So I believe that the future looks bright. We just need to keep working hard and get stronger.”

In its inaugural season, Collins-Maxwell scored 33 runs and hit .247 with a .376 on-base percentage. The Spartans gave up 258 runs and the pitching staff had a team earned-run average of 22.05 with 69 strikeouts and 133 walks in 80 innings.

Junior Brett Livesay joined the team two weeks into the season, despite not playing since eighth grade, to give the Spartans a boost. He led the team in hitting with a .458 batting average and also had a .536 OBP with four RBIs and three steals.

Eighth-graders Luke Huntrods (.394), Jace Huntrods (.375) and Caleb Dvorak (.306) each hit over .300 for Collins-Maxwell. Luke Huntrods added three doubles, six walks and two runs and RBIs apiece; Jace two doubles, five steals, four runs and two RBIs and Dvorak one double, six runs, six walks and three RBIs.

Freshmen Weston Kahler and Brayden Bartleson hit .250 and .200 respectively for Collins-Maxwell. Kahler also had a .413 OBP, one double, 10 runs, seven walks and four steals and Bartleson five walks and four RBIs.

Eighth-graders Owen Clark and Caden Hasbrouck turned in respective OBPs of .250 and .233 and senior Victor Genovese added a .200 OBP. Clark totaled two runs and an RBI, Hasbrouck one RBI and five walks and Genovese three walks.

Freshman Kayden McKinney picked up one hit and walk apiece and eighth-grader Marshall Day walked once. Sophomore Hunter Clair delivered two steals and one hit, walk and run apiece in only five at-bats after he joined the team late in the season.

On the mound, Kahler was 1-1 with 25 strikeouts and 16 walks in 19 ⅓ innings and Jace Huntrods finished 0-5 with a team-best 9.74 ERA, 23 strikeouts and 29 walks in 23 innings.

Dvorak threw 13 ⅔ innings and struck out five and Luke Huntrods compiled eight innings. Hasbrouck and Bartleson both got in 5 ⅔ innings of work, McKinney threw 2 ⅓ innings, Clark and Blake Huntrods both chipped in one inning and Livesay ⅓ of an inning.

Genovese will be the team’s only loss to graduation.

“Victor Genovese did a good job of being positive with the younger kids,” Lewis said. “He had not played since his freshman year and I was very happy how he kept working to improve himself all season long.”

With everyone else coming back, Collins-Maxwell is looking to take a big step forward in 2020.

“I was amazed at how such a young team kept wanting to play against the older competition — just having a team this summer made me proud to be their coach,” Lewis said. “Even after our loss to Don Bosco, I was thinking about next season and getting excited. We started as many as five eighth-graders in games this summer and I am really looking forward to see how much we can grow as a team. If the boys work hard, I really think we can get a few more wins next year and compete hard.”