Things are starting to come together for the Nevada softball program in the second year of head coach John Bass.

The Cubs finished their 2018 season with a 9-14 overall record. They went 7-7 in the Heart of Iowa Conference to place third behind eventual Class 3A state runner-up Roland-Story and a North Polk squad that ended the regular season rated fifth in 3A.

Last season, Nevada went just 4-21 overall and 1-14 in the HOIC. A more experienced group made a huge difference this season.

“We returned everyone from last year’s team,” Bass said. “This provided another year of maturity for each of the girls individually and as a team. The girls put in a lot of work in the off-season to prepare, and they all worked very hard to get themselves ready for the upcoming season.”

Nevada scored 89 runs, hitting .256 as a team with 31 doubles, eight home runs, 48 walks and 39 steals on offense during the season. The Cubs gave up 128 runs with a staff earned-run average of 4.44 and solid defensive play.

In 2017, Nevada scored just 64 runs and had a staff ERA of 6.86.

“We made improvements in lowering our team pitching ERA, raising our team batting average by 50 points and playing solid defense all year,” Bass said. “This allowed us to compete with every team on our schedule. We had lots of different girls stepping up every single game to make big plays, both offensively and defensively.”

The season began a little shakily. The Cubs opened with an 8-0 loss to eventual 1A state champion Collins-Maxwell, then fell to Iowa Falls-Alden and North Polk by 4-2 and 8-2 scores respectively.

The Cubs picked up their first victory June 1 with a 7-4 home triumph over Greene County. PCM handed Nevada a heartbreaking 9-8 loss three days later, but the Cubs came back with a 5-2 win over Grand View Christian and an 8-2 triumph over Colo-NESCO.

On June 8, Nevada suffered a 10-8 loss to Gilbert, but the Cubs bounced back with a 5-1 road win over Saydel. Nevada fell at Roland-Story on June 12, 7-0, then split a doubleheader with South Hamilton, losing 5-2 and winning by a 7-3 margin.

Nevada lost to BCLUW (13-0) and Perry (6-4) at the Kiwanis Invitational in Roland June 16, then a week later the Cubs whipped Chariton (11-2) and came up short against Des Moines Christian (10-0).

Starting June 25, the Cubs had a busy week to close out the regular season. Nevada pulled off a 6-4 win at Gilbert, lost 7-1 to Baxter, defeated Greene County on the road by a 3-1 score, lost 12-0 to North Polk, handled Saydel, 7-3, then lost to Roland-Story by a 5-0 margin.

The Cubs opened 3A regional play July 3 at No. 6 Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont. The Cubs weren’t able to follow up last year’s win at Harlan — their first regional victory since 2002 — but they may have played even better against EFB, pushing the Rockets to the limit before suffering a 4-3 setback.

“Whether at the plate or on the field, our girls felt that they were able to compete with everyone on our schedule,” Bass said.

The biggest obstacle Nevada dealt with during the season wasn’t even on the softball diamond, according to Bass.

“Weather!!,” Bass said. “It seemed when we would really get our momentum going, we would run into a rainout, or multiple rainouts,” Bass said. “This breaks up the flow of the season, taking away on field practice time and/or games.”

In addition to the EBF game, Bass said Nevada’s biggest highlights as a team were coming back from two runs down in the top of the seventh to beat Gilbert and more than doubling last year’s win total.

The top individual highlights were senior shortstop Grace Francis becoming the school’s all-time home run leader and Caitlyn Sharp leading the HOIC in steals.

Francis bowed out with a tremendous senior season, making the all-HOIC first team. She hit .444 with a .778 slugging average, nine doubles, four home runs and 12 runs and RBIs apiece.

For her career, Francis finished with six home runs.

Katie Sullivan was a second-team all-HOIC pick at catcher. She hit .348 with four doubles, two home runs and a team-high 14 RBIs.

Freshman outfielder Sydney Mosinski made all-HOIC honorable mention after hitting .390. She tallied three doubles, one home run, 12 runs and eight RBIs.

Freshman Brooklynn Jensen recorded a .250 batting average with four doubles, five runs and three RBIs. Junior first baseman Emma Griffin made all-HOIC honorable mention after hitting .221 with three doubles, one home run, 10 runs and 11 RBIs.

Junior outfielder Riley Mailey registered a .213 average with two doubles, six runs and seven RBIs. Freshman second baseman Ellie Gray recorded a .255 on-base average with one double, four runs and six RBIs.

Senior Mackenzie Garrett had a .211 OBP with a pair of doubles and nine RBIs. Freshman third baseman Addi Vorm delivered a .250 OBP with three doubles, eight runs and seven RBIs.

Junior outfielder Mady Farmer scored five runs and stole four bases and junior Libby Burlage provided steady defensive play at third base. Sharp swiped 24 bases in 25 attempts and also scored 11 runs.

Samara Sharp added five runs and four steals and Kacie Rewerts three runs and one steal. Gracie Barloon was a quality reserve at catcher.

Garrett, Jensen and eighth-graders Samantha Herridge and Makayla Spaid handled the pitching duties for Nevada.

Garrett made the all-HOIC second team. She went 5-6 with a 3.29 ERA, 16 strikeouts and 12 walks in 78 ⅔ innings on the season.

Jensen was 1-6 with a 7.67 ERA in 38 ⅓ innings. Herridge finished 1-1 with a 2.80 ERA in 15 innings and Spaid ended up 2-1 with a 3.77 ERA in 13 innings.

Next season, Nevada must find a way to replace the valuable contributions of Francis and Garrett.

“It is impossible to put into words what they have meant to our program over the last two years,” Bass said. “With no seniors a year ago, they were thrust into the leadership role a year early. They both embraced the challenge and were great leaders for our team. We will miss them a ton next year, but can’t wait to see what the future holds for them. They will both go far in life.”

With everyone else returning, the Cubs will still have a shot at continued improvement in 2019.

“We have a great group of girls coming back,” Bass said. “We are looking to take the next step, which would be a winning record, continue to improve in all areas and make a deep run in the state playoffs — which is our goal every year.”