The 2018 season saw the North Polk baseball team top 20 wins and claim a Heart of Iowa Conference championship for the second year in a row.

After going 15-15 two years ago, the Comets went 22-10 overall and won the HOIC outright with a 12-2 record in 2018 to follow up last year’s 25-9 showing. North Polk tied Saydel for the conference title in 2017 with a 13-3 mark.

“Our key contributors were highly consistent with their attendance to in the weight room, workouts and practice,” North Polk head baseball coach Dave Middleton said. “Our kids established a good team concept and looked forward to their time together. They created a great culture.”

That culture helped North Polk excel in all three phases of play to finish the regular season ranked No. 9 in Class 3A.

As with most great teams, everything centered around quality pitching for North Polk.

North Polk had a strong staff earned-run average of 2.05 and gave up just 80 runs all season. The Comet pitchers totaled 214 strikeouts against 66 walks and teams only hit .188 against them in 212 innings.

“Our pitching was extremely solid, with seven kids earning victories (during the season),” Middleton said. “We did a good job of getting ahead of the hitters.”

With top pitcher Colten Parkins battling a shoulder injury most of the season, senior Jake Johnson stepped up to have a banner year on the mound for North Polk. Johnson made the all-HOIC first team after going 5-2 with a 1.67 ERA, 55 strikeouts and only nine walks in a team-high 50 ⅓ innings.

“Jake Johnson picked up where he left off form the 2017 season and pitched well,” Middleton said. “He also improved both offensively and defensively.”

Junior Sutton Sears threw the second-most innings on the team at 42. Sears made the all-HOIC second team, going 5-1 with a 2.00 ERA, 37 strikeouts and only 12 walks.

Parkins was 2-2 with a team-best 1.50 ERA, two saves and 46 strikeouts against 10 walks in 28 innings as a first-team all-HOIC performer. Freshman Joe Husak came on strong in his first varsity season, going 4-0 with a 2.02 ERA, 25 strikeouts and seven walks in 27 ⅔ innings.

Senior Colby Cupp was 2-2 with a 2.82 ERA, 20 strikeouts and eight walks in 27 ⅓ innings. Junior Clark Hood finished 2-2 with a 2.66 ERA, 22 strikeouts and 16 walks in 26 ⅓ innings.

North Polk backed up its deep pitching staff with steady defense. The Comets had a team fielding average of .961, with 633 putouts, 247 assists and 36 errors in 916 chances.

“In the outfield we took several potential hits away and our infield was solid,” Middleton said. “Several times our infield turned double plays to stop any rallies. Our infield, pitchers and catchers did a pretty good job of controlling the running game as well.”

Offense baserunning was North Polk’s strong suit.

“We stole 71 of 76 bases,” Middleton said. “I thought our approach to stealing bases was really good.”

The Comets scored 177 runs, hitting .289 as a team with a .387 on-base percentage and .356 slugging average. They totaled 40 doubles, three triples and three homers and also drew 84 walks and had 21 sacrifices.

“Offensively, we compared to to the ‘17 (team’s) numbers, but at times I thought we were a little impatient at the plate,” Middleton said. “You certainly want your kids to be aggressive and the reason they practice hitting is so they have success when they swing the bat. It’s a real fine line.”

Cupp, junior first baseman Jeff Lamp and senior outfielder Reid Summers each hit over .300 for North Polk during the season.

Cupp boasted an outstanding .386 batting average with a .492 OBP, .485 slugging average, 18 walks, a team-high 17 steals, 10 doubles, 25 runs and 12 RBIs as the leadoff hitter in the order. Playing mostly at shortstop when he wasn’t pitching, Cupp recorded 70 assists and 30 putouts in the field.

“Colby Cupp had another great season all around,” Middleton said. “Colby led us in average and his defense was improved.”

Lamp delivered a .330 batting average, .474 OBP, .443 slugging average, seven doubles, one home run, 22 runs, 12 RBIs, 15 walks and four steals. In the field, he made 193 putouts and nine assists.

Summers hit .323 with a .382 OBP and team-best .500 slugging average to go along with seven doubles, two triples, nine runs and 16 RBIs. On defense, he recorded 13 putouts.

“Reid Summers, offensively, put in a great year,” Middleton said. “With very few at-bats his junior season, Reid led the Comets in several offensive categories over the first half of the season and was second on the team in extra-base hits.”

Parkins hit .290 with a .360 OBP, .330 slugging average, four doubles, 16 steals, 16 runs and 24 RBIs. Playing in the outfield and some infield when he wasn’t on the mound, Parkins tallied 53 putouts and 10 assists with three errors.

Sophomore Mark Cox recorded a .288 batting average, .385 OBP, .379 slugging average, three doubles, one homer, eight runs and 14 RBIs. He made four putouts with no errors on defense.

Johnson delivered a .282 batting average, .361 OBP, two doubles, four steals, 17 runs and 11 RBIs. Playing third base when he wasn’t pitching, Johnson produced 52 assists and 13 putouts.

Senior second baseman Payton Johnson hit .281 with a 378 OBP, .333 slugging average, three doubles, one triple, 16 steals, 12 walks, four sacrifices, a team-high 28 runs and 18 RBIs. He recorded a .973 fielding percentage with 58 assists, 50 putouts and only three errors.

“Payton Johnson also had a nice year,” Middleton said. “The combination (of Cupp and Johnson) turned several double plays. Payton also provided some offensive punch as a hitter and was really quick on the bases.”

Junior catcher Sam Kvidera tallied a .260 batting average with a .321 OBP, three doubles and seven RBIs. Behind the plate he threw out five base runners and made 216 putouts and 18 assists with just one error, leading all Comet regular fielders with a .996 fielding percentage.

Senior outfielder Mason Russell hit .253 with a .354 OBP, one double, one homer, six steals, 17 runs and 15 RBIs. Russell made 37 putouts and two assists with just two errors in the field.

“Mason Russell was an outstanding outfielder with a great first step that covered the gap,” Middleton said. “Mason had some big hits for us when needed them and got a (pitching) win over Bondurant-Farrar.”

Hood had a .310 OBP with seven runs and six RBIs and had eight putouts with no errors on defense. Senior Tyler Sinclair hit .250 with a .400 OBP, six runs and four RBIs in limited time due to suffering a season-ending injury.

“After Tyler Sinclair’s injury, he knew he wouldn’t be able to play the rest of the year,” Middleton said. “But he showed a great attitude and made sure he helped contribute as we tried to reach our goals.”

Sophomore Ryan Fausch posted a .235 OBP with two runs and RBIs apiece and seven putouts and six assists defensively.

Sears walked four times, stole two bases and scored 10 runs, Quentin McArthur scored four times and stole three bases and Cam Markert scored three runs for the Comets.

The season began with North Polk winning its first five games. The Comets defeated Gilbert (4-0), scored a pair of 5-1 wins over Perry and Pella and swept a doubleheader with Nevada by scores of 13-3 and 12-4.

North Polk then fell to Urbandale (10-0) and Ankeny (9-1), and defeated Burlington (12-0). The Comets suffered a 3-1 HOIC loss to Saydel on June 4, but rebounded to win their next five games by topping East Marshall (16-0), Norwalk (12-6), South Hamilton (6-1), PCM (13-1) and Gilbert (2-0).

Marshalltown, a strong Class 5A school, handed North Polk a 4-0 setback on June 15. The next day, the Comets defeated Norwalk, 2-0, and lost by forfeit to Creston.

North Polk split with 5A schools West Des Moines Valley and Indianola in the Prange Classic on June 22, beating Valley, 6-5, and suffering a 1-0 loss to Indianola.

“We had a great day at the Prange (Classic),” Middleton said. “A come-from-behind win over Valley playing fundamental baseball — then Clark Hood threw a gem as we got beat by Indianola 1-0. It’s nice to go compete with really good programs. That gives you some reading of where you’re at.”

The Comets downed South Hamilton three days later, 4-1, to complete a season sweep of the Hawks.

On June 27, North Polk swept Roland-Story in a doubleheader by scores of 11-0 and 6-1. Two days later, the Comets pulled off a 3-2 win over PCM.

The Comets were dealt a 6-2 loss at Saydel on July 2 — their only other setback in HOIC competition. North Polk whipped West Marshall the following day, 11-3, then scored two wins over Greene County (2-0 and 3-2), with a 2-1 loss to Ames in between.

The regular season ended with North Polk falling at home to Carlisle, 6-3, then knocking off Bondurant-Farrar by a 7-2 score.

The Comets opened 3A district play on July 13 with a 3-1 victory over Benton Community at Alleman. Three days later they were upset in a rematch with Bondurant-Farrar — an eventual state qualifier — in a 2-0 decision to finish up the season.

“Overall, I thought we competed and represented the school and program very well,” Middleton said. “Our kids are a class act, which makes it much more enjoyable. This was a great group of kids who believed in themselves and their teammates. They created a great baseball culture to be a part of.”

It will be tough to replace the departing class of six seniors as North Polk looks ahead to 2019.

“These kids were solid players and very supportive of the program,” Middleton said. “They will be greatly missed.”

But the Comets have always done a tremendous job rebuilding under Middleton and 2019 figures to be no exception.

“Next year we have a solid nucleus of players returning,” Middleton said. “Returning seniors Parkins, Lamp, Sears, Hood and Kvidera all saw a good amount of time and that will be something positive to build on. Cox and Husak also played extremely well for underclassmen. Our JV and freshman teams again tallied great seasons, I’m sure some of those players will step up and contribute as well.”