With several young players in the lineup, the Colo-NESCO softball team took its lumps this season, but the Royals also showed signs of a bright future.
Colo-NESCO finished 8-19 overall and took third in the Iowa Star Conference South Division with a 7-7 record. That is a small dropoff from last year, when the Royals finished 12-14 and 9-7 respectively.
The Royals entered the season needing to replace starting pitcher McKenna Ruffcorn, her battery mate Chelsea Henze, now a Royal assistant coach, plus first baseman Molly Barten — all three long-time reliable staples in the program. As a result, they sputtered at times.
“This year was a growing season,” Colo-NESCO head coach Candace Sutton said. “Young players got key opportunities to get better. Four of our nine fielders were consistently sophomores or younger. Players had to play positions they were not accustomed to and really stepped up and worked hard in those positions. We challenged ourselves all season and made the improvements I wanted to see by the end of the year.”
The season began with Colo-NESCO trouncing North Tama (13-0) and GMG (12-0). Then the Royals dropped seven in a row — falling to South Hardin (8-7), Collins-Maxwell (6-0), Twin Cedars (13-3), Grand View Christian (5-1), West Marshall (11-3), Baxter (10-7) and Nevada (11-6).
The losing streak came to an end on June 7 with a 13-0 drubbing of Tripoli. Colo-NESCO completed sweeps of North Tama and GMG on June 10 and 11 with wins by respective scores of 10-1 and 10-0.
The Royals were then hit by another seven-game skid. They suffered setbacks at the hands of Gilbert (13-4), Roland-Story (10-1), Don Bosco (12-6), South Hamilton (13-1), Clarksville (10-1), Collins-Maxwell (11-1) and Grand View Christian (12-1).
Colo-NESCO continued its roller-coaster ride through the season by winning its next three games. The Royals defeated both Riceville (6-3) and Dunkerton (4-2) on June 24, then edged HLV (4-3) on June 25.
“The HLV game was a fun game for the girls,” Sutton said. “It kept going back and forth and we kept fighting and grinded out that win.”
The regular season ended with Colo-NESCO falling to Baxter (3-1), Colfax-Mingo (14-2), Janesville (9-2) and Southeast Warren (3-2).
Colo-NESCO took on Central Decatur in the first round of Class 1A regionals on July 8 at Leon. The Royals put up a good fight, but fell just short — losing 9-7 to end the season.
“I enjoyed seeing the growth of the entire team this season and seeing the great upperclassmen leadership,” Sutton said. “I was very happy with the fight and effort from the girls all season.”
The Royals scored 130 runs and hit .261 as a team with a .352 on-base percentage and .342 slugging average. They totaled 32 doubles, four triples, five home runs, 86 walks and 47 steals.
“I challenged them to be more aggressive offensively,” Sutton said. “They did a great job working on taking extra bases, which was fun to watch.”
Colo-NESCO gave up 193 runs. The Royals had a .912 fielding average with 488 putouts and 213 assists in 769 chances.
“Defensively we grew tremendously,” Sutton said. “The girls fundamentally learned a lot and were able to quicken up their play, making the correct choices in situations. In the past, we struggled with small ball situations defensively. This year we really worked on those situations and were able to recognize and execute those plays.”
Senior Faith Vincent, juniors Lauryn Hill, Rylee Purvis, Gracie Kettwig and Megan Carlson, sophomore McKenzie Niemeyer and eighth-grader Callie Kohlwes were the big bats for Colo-NESCO.
Vincent had a big senior year, hitting .408 with a .494 OBP, .513 slugging average, six doubles, one triple, 11 walks and 13 steals, runs and RBIs apiece. In the outfield, she made 34 putouts with no errors.
“Faith Vincent’s breakout season was a pleasant surprise,” Sutton said.
Hill hit .235 with a .333 OBP, one double, one triple, 19 runs, 15 steals, 11 walks and 10 RBIs. Playing mainly at third base, she made 53 assists and 21 putouts with only six errors.
Purvis posted a .337 average with a .396 OBP, .518 slugging average, eight doubles, two triples, one home run, 18 runs and 22 RBIs. She tallied 46 assists and 26 putouts against six errors at shortstop and on the mound.
Kettwig delivered a .296 average with a .425 OBP, .380 slugging average, 13 walks, six doubles, eight runs and 15 RBIs. Carlson registered a .243 average with a .354 OBP, 12 walks, six runs and seven RBIs at the plate and 209 putouts against five errors at first base.
Niemeyer hit .213 with a .330 OBP, .400 slugging average, three doubles, four home runs, 14 walks, 18 runs and 10 RBIs on offense and recorded 26 putouts and 24 assists at shortstop and in the outfield. Her home-run total tied the school single-season record, originally set by Sam Riese in 2013 and later tied by Peyton Hall in 2016.
Kohlwes tallied a .298 average with a .327 OBP, .340 slugging average, two doubles, 11 runs and six RBIs. She made 20 assists and 10 putouts defensively.
Senior Claire Skinner had a .244 OBP with one double, eight walks, six runs and eight RBIs. At second base, she finished with 35 assists and 27 putouts against only four errors.
Freshman Jenna Hill delivered a .306 OBP with two doubles, 13 runs and 10 steals. Hill produced 24 putouts and four assists defensively.
Sophomore Jenna Banks contributed two runs and walks apiece, freshman Izabell Voelker scored five times and stole two bases and eighth-grader Abigail Hostetler delivered three hits and one run. Hostetler threw out two runners and made 78 putouts and 10 assists at catcher and Banks recorded 22 putouts and 14 assists, spending most of her time behind the plate.
Purvis and Kohlwes did almost all of the pitching. The Royal staff had an ERA of 5.69 with 95 strikeouts and 89 walks in 162 ⅓ innings.
Purvis and Kohlwes both finished 4-9.
Purvis tallied a 4.73 ERA with 55 strikeouts and 36 walks in 94 ⅔ innings. Kohlwes had a 7.18 ERA with 40 strikeouts and 53 walks in 65 ⅓ innings.
Carlson thew 2 ⅓ innings, posting a 3.00 ERA.
Vincent and Skinner will be the only losses to graduation for Colo-NESCO.
“My two seniors were great leaders and really helped to develop the program in their time with us,” Sutton said. “They both played very solid defense and made key plays this season. Faith had an amazing final season and Claire improved all season as she got back into things after her hip surgery. I look forward to seeing them both compete at the next level.”
That leaves Colo-NESCO with a strong foundation for 2020.
“We return the majority of our players, which includes two very solid pitchers, who after another year of growth will surprise teams,” Sutton said. “They will all be one year older and have more games played. I feel our younger players bats will come around and we will make all those little fundamental gains needed to stay in games. I hope to be more consistently competitive in all games.”