A new off-season program helped the Colo-NESCO baseball team take a big step forward in 2018.

The Royals finished the season 11-12 overall and 8-6 in the Iowa Star Conference, placing second in the South Division. Last year, Colo-NESCO was just 7-21-1 on the season and 5-12-1 in the conference.

“We started a new off-season throwing program that a lot of the pitchers utilized,” Colo-NESCO head baseball coach Brandon Frohwein said. “Our team earned-run average and pitching numbers were greatly improved this year. Also, I think our group of seniors were really good leaders for our team, which led to an improved season.”

The Royals gave up 162 runs with a 4.48 ERA, 106 strikeouts and 116 walks over 143 ⅔ innings as a team in 2018. Last year, they allowed 314 runs with an 8.38 ERA.

Seniors Bryce Niemeyer and Sean Cutler, and sophomores Brighton Clatt and Shawn Gilbert logged the most innings for Colo-NESCO in 2018.

Niemeyer posted a 4-4 record with a 3.50 ERA, 36 strikeouts and 33 walks in 46 innings of work.

“Bryce Niemeyer has been one of our main pitchers the last two years,” Frohwein said. “He was also a big leader during offseason pitching. He finishes his career as an all-conference pitcher.”

Cutler finished 3-3 with a 2.68 ERA, 28 strikeouts and 30 walks in 31 ⅓ innings.

Clatt threw 22 ⅔ innings and went 0-3 with a 6.49 ERA, nine strikeouts and 14 walks. Gilbert delivered a 3-0 record with one save, a 4.05 ERA, 20 strikeouts and 10 walks in 19 innings.

Junior Kelly Gray was 1-1 with a 2.71 ERA, four strikeouts and four walks in 10 ⅓ innings and senior Matthew Hill threw nine innings and went 0-1 with seven strikeouts and eight walks.

The stronger pitching helped Colo-NESCO overcome a shaky performance in the field. The Royals had a .901 fielding average with 426 putouts, 148 assists and 63 errors in 637 chances.

On offense, Colo-NESCO mustered 159 runs, hitting .242 with a .389 on-base percentage and .319 slugging average. The Royals compiled 127 walks, 28 doubles, one triple and five home runs and they stole 85 bases in 90 attempts.

“I think that our approach at the plate was really good as the season went on,” Frohwein said. “We did a better job of swinging at good pitches and taking our walks.”

In 2017, Colo-NESCO hit .259, but only scored 126 runs. The Royals ended up with just 86 walks and 53 steals last season.

The top hitters for the Royals this summer were Hill, Gray, Cutler and senior first baseman Jacob Clatt.

Hill compiled a .400 batting average, .511 OBP, .543 slugging average, eight doubles, one triple, 13 walks, six steals, 24 runs and 21 RBIs. Playing mainly at third base, he made 28 putouts and 22 assists.

“Matthew Hill will go down as one of the best hitters in Colo-NESCO history with 117 career hits, which is a new school record,” Frohwein said. “He also finished second in career doubles and RBIs, and top ten in many other hitting categories.”

Gray posted a .329 batting average, .484 OBP, .357 slugging average, two doubles, 20 walks, 28 runs and 13 RBIs. He was the team’s top base runner, going 26 of 28 on steal attempts, and made 44 assists and 22 putouts, spending most of his time at shortstop.

Cutler hit .280 with a .365 OBP, .305 slugging average, two doubles, nine walks, 10 runs and 15 RBIs. Playing mostly at second base, he finished with 28 putouts and 25 assists.

“Sean Cutler loves baseball,” Frohwein said. “The kid has done everything for us, including taking varsity book, taking JV book, hitting JV infield, batting practice pitcher, all-district two years and most of all has been a leader, during both the season and off-season.”

Jacob Clatt tallied a .257 batting average, .321 OBP, .405 slugging average, five doubles, two home runs, 16 runs and 18 RBIs. In the field, he delivered 113 putouts and five assists.

“Jacob Clatt played very good defense at first base while providing the pop in the middle of the lineup,” Frohwein said.

Senior outfielder Ryan Banks hit .245 with a .406 OBP, two doubles, 14 walks, 12 runs, nine RBIs and six steals. On defense, Banks made 25 putouts and one assist with just one error.

“Ryan Banks had a very solid senior year playing strong defense in right field and providing quality at bats in the middle of the lineup,” Frohwein said.

Mason Lytle, another senior outfielder, recorded a .239 batting average, .349 OBP, .423 slugging average, four doubles, three home runs, 20 runs, 13 RBIs, 11 walks and 13 steals. In the field, Lytle made 32 putouts and two assists.

“Mason Lytle had several clutch home runs this season and provided a lot of range in center field,” Frohwein said “He hurt his arm and was not able to pitch the majority of the season, but did throw two scoreless innings against Don Bosco.”

Brighton Clatt hit .219 with a .350 OBP, two doubles, seven walks, five steals, five runs and four RBIs. Playing mainly in the outfield, he came up with 10 putouts and four assists.

Senior catcher Garrett Packer produced a .500 OBP with 24 walks, 11 steals, one double, nine runs and seven RBIs. Behind the plate, he threw out 10 runners and had 106 putouts and 18 assists with only two errors.

“Garrett Packer had one of the best defensive senior seasons in school history, throwing out 10 runners and having an excellent fielding percentage,” Frohwein said. “He (also) had a knack for getting on base.”

Niemeyer had a .324 OBP with a double, 11 walks, five runs, three RBIs and two steals. In the field, he delivered 18 putouts and 15 assists.

Philip Bower, a senior outfielder, delivered a .234 OBP with 10 walks, four steals, one double, 13 runs and eight RBIs. Defensively, Bower had 35 putouts and one assist against just one error.

“Phil Bower was an excellent defensive left fielder, making several amazing catches throughout the year,” Frohwein said. “His defense will be tough to replace.”

Sophomores Jack McKinney and Luke Hill were the top pinch runners for the Royals, scoring nine and seven runs respectively.

Colo-NESCO started the season winning five of its first eight games. The Royals fell to North Tama (7-0), topped GMG (12-6), suffered a 13-3 loss to AGWSR, defeated South Hardin (5-4), split a doubleheader with Riceville, (winning 10-9 and losing 7-6) and swept CAL by scores of 16-5 and 6-5.

The Royals then suffered four consecutive losses, falling to Tripoli (11-5), Ankeny Christian Academy (6-3), Pleasantville (22-6) and North Tama (8-2). They snapped their losing skid with a 10-7 win over GMG on June 13.

Don Bosco handed the Royals a 7-3 loss on June 15. Colo-NESCO came back with a 13-7 win at Clarksville, then Janesville defeated the Royals by a 4-1 score.

Colo-NESCO ran off four wins in a row before ending the regular season with losses to Colfax-Mingo (9-2) and Nevada (6-3). During the winning streak, the Royals downed Dunkerton by a 6-5 score, swept a doubleheader from Baxter with decisive 13-2 and 17-2 wins and trounced BCLUW by a 16-6 margin.

The Royals opened Class 1A district play against Ankeny Christian Academy. The Royals saw their season come to a close with a 7-1 setback.

“The second-place finish in the Iowa Star South Division was, I believe, (our) highest conference or division finish since 1989, when Colo-NESCO finished first in the Mid-Iowa Conference. It is a noteworthy accomplishment for the seniors. The seniors also tied the record for most wins in their high school career with the 1991 and 2016 senior classes. We would have liked to finish the season over 0.500, but the 11-12 record was a major improvement over last season.”

“Overall, I was proud of the way the guys battled this season,” Frohwein said. “There were only a couple games all season that were not competitive.”

It will be hard for Frohwein to say goodbye to the large senior class that is departing the program.

“The senior class was in eighth grade when I started at Colo-NESCO, and they primarily made up our junior varsity that year,” Frohwein said. “They have grown over the last five years, and particularly over the last year.”

“Even last year when we took our lumps, they had good attitudes and continued showing up and working at practice,” Frohwein said. “I think we made some very drastic improvements this season, especially in the pitching department, and I attribute the majority of that to the leadership of our senior class. The senior class with eight members will be very tough to lose. They were good student athletes, but even better people.”

The Royal coach also must say farewell to long-time assistant coach Ken Tiarks.

“I would be remiss not to mention that Ken Tiarks, who has been my assistant coach all five years at Colo-NESCO and was the assistant several years before I arrived, has also decided this will be his last year in that position,” Frohwein said. “I want to thank him for everything he has done for the Colo-NESCO baseball program and for Colo-NESCO in general. He will be dearly missed.”

But though those absences will be challenging to fill, Frohwein said he is still looking forward to 2019.

“We do return three of our top five pitchers, so I think we will be able to put together a pretty solid pitching staff,” Frohwein said. “Kelly Gray will be our only senior next year, and he is coming off a very good junior year. He will have to be our leader on and off the field. It will be a bit of a rebuilding year, but with a solid pitching staff returning, I think we have a chance to improve quickly.”