Ames to lean on experience in quest to become one of 2022’s best Iowa high school baseball teams
Mario Napolitano is expecting big things in his final year as a member of the Ames baseball team.
Napolitano, who will be attending the University of Nebraska next fall, is one of 10 seniors looking to leave a big mark this year. Ames was 18-23 a year ago, but the Little Cyclones feel they can finish high in the CIML-Iowa standings and make a deep postseason run in 2022.
“We’re an ambitious team,” Napolitano said. “It’s our third year all together. When we began three years ago our focus was on building a legacy and we’re really trying to make it a really good season to finish that out.”
Nick Steenhagen took over the program in 2020 when Ames was coming off a rough 8-31 season. The Little Cyclones went 13-8 in his first year, but they were unable to well enough on a nightly basis to take the next step in 2021.
More consistency is a huge focal point heading into 2022.
“The biggest thing is finding that next level of being able to compete with the teams we play night in and night out,” Steenhagen said. “It’s that greatness and ability to compete in those tight games. Putting down the bunt when you have to, eliminating walks and hit batsmen and getting those timely hits. We need to be able to dial in on those things over the next couple of weeks.”
The Little Cyclones feel they have the experience to get the job done this year.
Napolitano is back at third base after hitting .320 with 10 doubles, 27 runs and 16 RBIs last year. Juniors Braydon Beelner and Austin Gabrielson are interchangeable at shortstop and second base to shore up the middle of the infield and talented sophomore Carter Geffre will fill in behind the plate.
Beelner hit .250 with 10 steals, 28 runs and 17 RBIs and Gabrielson .262 with 13 steals, 31 runs and 14 RBIs in 2021. Geffre threw out two base runners and went without an error in 92 chances at catcher last year.
Josh Nigh could also contribute at catcher.
Steenhagen said first base is the biggest question mark heading into the season. But Ames does return versatile senior Drew Peterson, who Steenhagen said can play any position and is coming off a junior year where he drove in 9 runs and only had 4 errors in 63 chances.
In the outfield Ames brings back Evan Grey in center field and Griff Linder in one of the corner spots. Grey hit .390 with 8 doubles, 5 triples, 37 runs, 21 RBIs and 25 steals and Linder finished with 9 runs and 4 RBIs in 2021.
Josh Motl could also play in right or left field.
Napolitano said the Little Cyclones have developed tremendous unity as a group, which he says could carry them a long way.
“We’ve grown as teammates, which will help us on the field,” Napolitano said. “We’ll face other teams as a team rather than individuals.”
On the mound Ames gave up 280 runs with a staff ERA of 6.80 last year. The Little Cyclones expect to do much better in 2022.
“We have guys with a higher velocity,” Ames senior Ben Amador said. “We have a lot more pitchers in general who can do very well this year.”
Amador threw 43 1/3 innings last year. He went 2-4 with a 5.33 ERA and 51 strikeouts against 27 walks and feels he's ready to take the next step this summer.
“My control has improved,” Amador said. “I’m able to be stronger mentally.”
Senior Clayton Elbert is back after leading Ames in innings pitched last year with 49 1/3. He went 5-3 with a 3.83 ERA.
Linder threw 33 2/3 innings and went 2-5 with a 6.86 ERA. Napolitano was a perfect 3-0 with a 4.13 ERA in 20 1/3 innings and Beelner threw 19 innings with a 5.16 ERA.
Geffre can also pitch and Steenhagen said sophomore Josh Grey will be a big surprise this year. The Little Cyclones could also get contributions from Darren Lampley and 6-9 hurler Hunter Jones, whom Steenhagen said will be "sneaky" guys.
Ames finished fifth in the CIML-Iowa last year with a 5-16 record. With the guys coming back and newcomers stepping into the program Steenhagen said Ames is capable of being one of the top two or three teams in the conference this year.
The Little Cyclone coach also expects his team to be more competitive in the postseason. Ames was knocked off by Southeast Polk in the Class 4A substate quarterfinals last year.
If everything comes together 2022 could be a landmark season for the program.
“The guys are really hungry to be able to host a postseason game — it’s been several years since Ames has done that," Steenhagen said. "We really feel 28-30 wins is realistic.”