The Colo-NESCO baseball team overcame a lack of experience to hit a double-digit win total for the second-straight season in 2019.
The Royals only had three seniors — just one of which had quality varsity experience entering the season. They also had to rely on two inexperienced sophomores, a freshman and an eighth-grader, to provide quality innings on the mound.
But despite not having a lot of veteran leadership to rely on, Colo-NESCO matched its 2018 record by finishing 11-12. The Royals placed third in the Iowa Star Conference South Division with a 9-5 record, bettering their 8-6 conference mark from a year ago.
“If you would have told me that we would finish 11-12 going into the season, with the youth on our team, I would’ve taken it,” Colo-NESCO head coach Brandon Frohwein said. “However, as we kept winning games, the guys kept wanting to win more games, so we would have liked to win a couple more. Overall, I was very happy with the development of the team over the year and the way the guys would compete, even when we weren’t playing our best.”
Colo-NESCO produced a big highlight right off the bat. The Royals opened the season with a historic 11-9 victory over eventual ISC South Division champion North Tama.
“The opening win over North Tama was the first in school history over the Redhawks,” Frohwein said. “It was a real team win — with almost everyone contributing.”
The Royals fell to GMG by an 8-5 score in their second game. Then they went back and forth with hot and cold streaks the rest of the season.
Colo-NESCO won four in a row from May 30 through June 7. The Royals defeated Collins-Maxwell (11-6), BCLUW (7-6), Baxter (10-1) and Tripoli (21-13).
From June 8-14, Colo-NESCO went cold. The Royals lost six straight, falling to Gladbrook-Reinbeck (6-3), Pleasantville (22-6), North Tama (9-2), GMG (14-4), South Hardin (16-6) and Don Bosco (14-0).
Things turned around on June 17 with a 10-1 victory over Clarksville. That sparked a five-game winning streak that saw Colo-NESCO add wins over Collins-Maxwell (6-0), Riceville (5-3), Dunkerton (10-0) and Baxter (7-5).
“We rallied from 7-0 deficit against Tripoli to win 21-13 and we won two extra-inning games,” Frohwein said. “One against BCLUW in nine innings on a perfectly-executed delayed steal by Jack McKinney and Brighton Clatt. One against Baxter in 10 innings with key pitching performances by Shawn Gilbert and Spencer Hansen and three straight hits by Trever Burg, Kaleb Ruffcorn and Kaleb Gray in the 10th inning.”
In their final five games of the regular season, the Royals suffered losses to Nevada (6-1), Janesville (8-0), AGWSR (7-2) and Grundy Center (13-3) and picked up a 6-2 win over Colfax-Mingo.
Colo-NESCO got a rematch with Grundy Center in the Class 1A district quarterfinals. The Royals put up a much better fight, but fell by a 3-0 score to end the season.
As a team, Colo-NESCO scored 136 runs with a .218 batting average, .361 on-base percentage, 14 doubles and 108 walks. The Royals’ strength on offense was base running, as they totaled 104 steals in 115 attempts.
“We didn’t have a lot of guys with gaudy batting averages, so we had to work together to score runs,” Frohwein said. “We had to take our walks and times hit by a pitch and steal bases when we had the opportunity.”
The Royals gave up 171 runs. On defense, they posted a .906 fielding average with 455 putouts and 173 assists against 65 errors in 693 chances.
“I was very happy with how we played defensively for most of the season,” Frohwein said. “The kids seem to adjust to their spots quickly, and in most of our wins, we played really good defense.”
Senior pitcher/outfielder/shortstop Kelly Gray and Hansen, an eighth-grade pitcher/third baseman, were the top hitters for Colo-NESCO.
Gray hit .397 with a .539 OBP, one double, 14 walks and nine RBIs and on defense he 136 putouts and 14 assists with only two errors. Gray racked up an impressive 44 steals in 48 attempts, setting the school single-season steal mark and ranking second in all of 1A.
“Kelly Gray had one of the best senior years and one of the best careers in Colo-NESCO baseball history,” Frhowein said. “He broke three school records, including career runs (108) previously held by J.T. Adams (103), career stolen bases (92) previously held by Matt Rasmusson (64) and single season stolen bases (44) previously held by Blake Jobe (35).”
“He played in the most games in school history (120) and his senior class is the all-time winningest senior class in school history,” Frohwein said. “He was a very vital part of our team, and his leadership and his exceptional baseball abilities will be greatly missed.”
Hansen hit .348 with a .506 OBP, two doubles, 18 walks, 14 runs and a team-high 22 RBIs. He also had 38 assists and 19 putouts in the field.
McKinney and Gilbert, both juniors, and sophomore Kaleb Ruffcorn all hit over .240 for the Royals.
McKinney posted a .271 average, .354 OBP, eight walks, 16 runs and nine RBIs. He made 141 putouts and eight assists defensively, playing mainly at first base.
Gilbert hit .258 with a .350 OBP, four doubles, 10 walks, 14 runs and 16 RBIs. He tallied 36 assists and 23 putouts, spending most of his time at shortstop and pitcher.
Ruffcorn tallied a .240 average with a .441 OBP, two doubles, 12 walks, five runs and six RBIs. He contributed six putouts defensively.
Clatt and Burg both had an OBP above .300 during their junior seasons.
Clatt recorded a .333 OBP with 14 steals, two doubles, 14 walks, 16 runs and 10 steals. In the field, he made 26 putouts and 17 assists.
Burg tallied a .303 OBP with two doubles, 14 walks, 10 runs and six RBIs. He made 21 putouts and 18 assists in the field.
Junior Luke Hill had a .224 OBP with 11 runs and six steals and he chipped in 11 putouts and three assists on defense. Kaleb Gray, an eighth-grade catcher, drove in six runs and threw out nine runners, with only two errors defensively.
Freshman Andrew Grover scored five runs and made 23 putouts and one assists against just two errors. Freshman Kenny Cutler scored six runs and made two putouts and senior Ethan Wilson scored six times.
Senior Devin Reed made six putouts with no errors in the outfield and scored one run. Freshman Alex Rouse delivered one run and assist apiece and freshman Ben Rouse added one run and walk apiece.
Clatt, Kelly Gray and Gilbert did most of the pitching for the Royals.
Clatt finished 3-5 with a strong 2.06 ERA, 37 strikeouts and 21 walks in 47 ⅔ innings. Gray went a perfect 3-0 with a 3.80 ERA, 20 strikeouts and 14 walks in 35 innings and Gilbert wound up 3-2 with a 5.00 ERA and 26 strikeouts and walks apiece in 28 innings.
Hansen ended up 2-1 with a 2.77 ERA, 24 strikeouts and 12 walks in 17 ⅔ innings. Burg was 0-3 with a 5.92 ERA, 14 strikeouts and 12 walks in 13 innings.
Alex Rouse and Ruffcorn both put in five innings of work. Rouse had a 1.40 ERA with five strikeouts and no walks and Ruffcorn was 0-1 with nine walks.
McKinney also tossed ⅓ of a scoreless inning for the Royals.
Wilson and Reed will be Colo-NESCO’s only losses to graduation, alongside Kelly Gray.
“Ethan Wilson decided to come back out his senior year, despite an arm injury that limited him to courtesy running, and he was a very integral part of our team as he provided much needed speed on the bases,” Frohwein said. “Devin Reed came out his senior year for the first time. He provided much needed speed on the base paths and was a very good outfielder when called upon.”
That leaves Colo-NESCO with a lot more experience to build around heading into 2020.
“I think our goal should be to shoot for a conference championship,” Frohwein said. “We return a large chunk of our pitching rotation, including Brighton Clatt, Shawn Gilbert, Trevor Burg and Spencer Hansen. It will be important for our current juniors to step up and provide leadership from now all the way to next season.”