The Colo-NESCO softball team just missed out on a winning season and placed second in the Iowa Star Conference South Division in 2018.

The Royals went 12-14 overall after finishing 15-17 a year ago. They ended their 2018 campaign 9-7 in the ISC, winning a tiebreaker with newcomer Baxter for second in the South Division behind Collins-Maxwell, another newbie that went on to win the Class 1A state championship.

“We are heading in a direction that makes me excited for the future of Colo-NESCO softball,” Colo-NESCO head softball coach Candace Sutton said. “Our girls are playing more softball and it is starting to show. We grew a lot this season and the seniors were able to put it all on the field and end their career on positives.”

Colo-NESCO started up and down and hit a difficult stretch in the middle of the season. But the Royals finished up playing their best ball, winning six of their final nine games.

The season began with Colo-NESCO defeated North Tama (4-3) and GMG (4-0), splitting a doubleheader with Riceville (winning 7-1 and losing 4-1) and falling to Grand View Christian (14-4) and Collins-Maxwell (8-0) in its first six games.

The Royals then whipped South Hardin (10-0), came up short against West Marshall (14-1) and Nevada (8-2) and trounced Tripoli (12-1). Colo-NESCO lost a tough 1-0 battle at North Tama on June 11, but came back two days later to finish off a sweep of GMG with a 12-3 victory.

The following week was the toughest part of the season.

The Royals lost five straight, falling at Don Bosco by a 12-2 score, losing to South Hamilton (8-7) and eventual Class 3A runner-up Roland-Story (12-0) at the Kiwanis Invitational in Roland. Then they suffered another 12-0 setback to top-five 1A power Clarksville and were dealt a 13-8 home loss to eventual 1A state qualifier Janesville.

But going up against three eventual state qualifiers during that period strengthened Colo-NESCO for its final stretch of the regular season.

“We schedule tough competition throughout the season to help improve our game,” Sutton said. “This was very true this year. Playing with tough competition quickens your game and helps clean up your mistakes.”

On June 25 Colo-NESCO hammered Dunkerton, 14-3. Two days later the Royals swept Baxter in a doubleheader, 5-4 and 15-5, to get in position to take second in the South Division.

The Royals had a bad day June 28, losing to both Collins-Maxwell (12-0) in conference play and Colfax-Mingo (21-11) in a non-conference slugfest. But they came back to crush CAL in a doubleheader, 13-1 and 15-0, to wrap up second in the ISC South.

In the opening round of 1A regional competition Colo-NESCO rallied past West Bend-Mallard, 9-8. They saw their season come to a close the next day with a 7-0 setback to No. 6 Newman Catholic in the quarterfinals.

“This group has played a lot together and it showed on the field,” Sutton said. “The younger players came in and learned from the senior leaders and this helped pull the program to our success. We grew throughout the season on staying focused throughout an entire game and finishing games strong.”

Colo-NESCO scored 156 runs and gave up 174 during the season. This was against a tougher schedule than the previous year where the Royals put up 200 runs and allowed 196 over 32 games.

On offense Colo-NESCO hit .292 with a .372 on-base percentage, .383 slugging average, 42 doubles, two triples, four home runs, 72 walks and six steals.

The Royal pitching staff posted a 5.23 ERA with 77 strikeouts and 65 walks in 146 innings. On defense Colo-NESCO recorded a .900 fielding average with 431 putouts and 180 assists against 68 errors in 679 chances.

“We grew the most defensively this season,” Sutton said. “Our fundamentals were there, so we were able to work on making the the right decisions based on the situation. Some of these highlights include getting lead runners in key situations, where in previous years if we didn’t field it cleanly we would just go to first. Our outfielders made great throws to third and home to get extra outs after catches.”

Catcher Chelsea Henze, pitcher Mackenna Ruffcorn and first baseman Molly Barten were the three seniors on the team.

Henze set the school single-season record for best fielding percentage this season at .991 and she finished the Royals’ all-time leader in doubles (33) and RBIs (108). She also set the single-season RBI mark last year at 26.

Ruffcorn, having to twice fight her way back from knee injuries, set the school individual OBP mark this season at .442. She also set the single-season double mark last year with 17 and the season hit record of 41 in 2015.

“All three seniors bought into the program and gave more to the program than any other players,” Sutton said. “There are no words that will do justice to what these seniors have done for this program. They didn’t miss workouts and pushed others to be better and got them to play more softball in the off season. Their leadership is something that will be missed, but the underclassmen have grown into the players they are in part because of these seniors. Our program thanks them for leaving this program better off than when they started.”

Henze was an all-ISC elite team pick in her senior season.

Henze hit .405 with a .595 slugging average, eight doubles, two home runs, 20 runs and 21 RBIs. She only made one error in 107 chances behind the plate and threw out five base runners.

“Chelsea Henze had a fantastic senior campaign and the stats back that up,” Sutton said. “She caught every inning this season. Her ability to throw to bases kept teams from stealing bases and also kept them from getting to good of a lead. She was a wall behind the plate and called every pitch this season for our pitchers. She has been our clean up hitter for 4 years and always played well under the pressure.”

Ruffcorn made the ISC South Division second team.

In 2018 Ruffcorn posted a .351 batting average with seven doubles, one home run and 21 RBIs. She went 6-5 with a 3.81 ERA, 35 strikeouts and 28 walks in 60 ⅔ innings on the mound and made 50 assists and 22 putouts splitting time in the field between pitcher and shortstop.

“Mackenna Ruffcorn has been a key component to our program for the last five years,” Sutton said. “She was the main pitcher as eighth-grader and she had an all state season as a freshman. Even though she couldn’t physically play as a sophomore she called the pitches and aiding our new eighth-grade pitcher (Rylee Purvis) anyway she could. As a junior she came back and was a batting leader on the team as well as pitched the most innings again. This year she was a batting leader again as well as split time on the mound and at shortstop.”

“She has grown so much in the last four years,” Sutton said. “She was the game manager on the field talking and telling her teammates what to do next play.”

Barten posted a .209 batting average with three doubles, eight runs and 10 RBIs. At first base she had 149 putouts and three assists.

“Molly Barten went from only playing in the field as a freshman to being a player that had several key hits this last year that helped jumpstart rallies,” Sutton said. “She bought into the process and the improvements are a testament to that. She is exactly the type of player you want in your program. She had (our) second-best fielding percentage playing every inning at first base this season.”

Purvis and junior outfielder Faith Vincent both made the ISC South Division first team as underclassmen for Colo-NESCO.

Purvis went 6-7 with a 5.66 ERA, 38 strikeouts and 33 walks in 81 ⅔ innings on the mound and she made 56 assists and 15 putouts at shortstop and pitcher in the field. On offee Purvis recorded a .442 batting average, .500 OBP, .610 slugging average, eight doubles, one triple, one homer, 23 runs and 16 RBIs.

Vincent 32 putouts, two assists and just two errors in the outfield. In 18 games she hit .316 with two doubles, one triple, nine runs and five RBIs.

Freshman outfielder McKenzie Niemeyer made the ISC South Division honorable mention after posting a .400 OBP with a team-high 22 walks and also scoring 22 times and adding four doubles. In the field Niemeyer made 36 putouts and one assist.

Sophomore third baseman Gracie Kettwig hit .278 five doubles, 12 runs and 12 RBIs. In the field she made 26 putouts and 25 assists.

Junior Claire Skinner tallied a .258 batting average with a double, 13 runs and 10 RBIs. She 18 putouts and 14 assists in the field.

Freshman Ayvarie Bappe recorded a .286 batting average, three doubles, eight runs and seven RBIs and she made six putouts in the field. Sophomore Megan Carlson hit .257 with a double and five RBIs in 35 at-bats and she also made four putouts.

Freshman Jenna Banks stepped in to score 12 runs and make 24 putouts and 16 assists playing mainly at second base. Eighth-grader Jenna Hill scored 14 times and freshman Morgan Lytle drove in one run.

Next season Colo-NESCO has some big shoes to fill and will face another tough schedule. But with a veteran pitcher in Purvis and some good bats returning the Royals will aim to remain one of the top teams in the ISC South in 2019.

“I have high hopes for next year,” Sutton said. “It take time to replace the key roles our seniors played and we will have some growing pains as we do that, but we return a lot of key players and our JV had a very successful season. I look forward to see the progress they make before next season to help fill those holes our seniors leave.”

“Our conference is going to remain very competitive,” Sutton said. “We look forward to the challenge of competing with those top tier teams night in and night out and expect to be up in the mix of teams that are competitive.”