How an improved pitching staff helped the Colo-NESCO baseball team post a winning record in 2022

Joe Randleman
Ames Tribune
Ben Rouse was part of an improved pitching staff that enabled the Colo-NESCO baseball team to post a winning 12-11 record in 2022.

An improved pitching staff helped the Colo-NESCO baseball team turn in its first winning season since 2016 this summer.

The Royals finished their 2022 season with a 12-11 overall record. They placed third in the Iowa Star Conference South Division behind North Tama (10-3) and Collins-Maxwell (8-6) with a 7-6 conference record.

"We were finally able to get over the top," Colo-NESCO head coach Brandon Frohwein said. "I feel like overall it was a very successful season.  You would always like to win more games, but I thought the guys did a good job of competing night in and night out and giving the team a chance, even in the most grueling parts of the schedule. As a coach that is all I can ask."

Colo-NESCO posted its winning record despite a rough start. The Royals only won one of their first five games.

The season began with Colo-NESCO falling to Des Moines Christian (9-2), GMG (10-3) and Madrid (5-3). The Royals defeated Collins-Maxwell by a 6-4 score May 27, but then suffered a 6-1 loss at the hands of North Tama June 1.

Things started to come together for the Royals June 3. They went on the road and avenged their loss to GMG with a 4-2 victory.

Colo-NESCO defeated West Central Valley (14-12) and Riceville (9-2) in its next two games then suffered a 10-0 loss to West Delaware. The Royals completed a sweep of Collins-Maxwell June 10 with a 5-2 victory at home then won a 13-12 slugfest over Iowa Valley.

Gladbrook-Reinbeck handed Colo-NESCO a 15-6 June 11. The Royals split a doubleheader with Baxter June 13, winning 19-1 and losing 8-6, and they followed that with wins over BCLUW (20-12) and Dunkerton (3-2).

South Hamilton handed Colo-NESCO an 11-1 loss June 17. The Royals came back with lopsided victories over Melcher-Dallas (19-4) and Clarksville (15-5) before suffering a 12-2 loss at the hands of traditional power Don Bosco.

Colo-NESCO pulled off a 7-3 victory over Grand View Christian June 23 at Zearing. The Royals dropped a 7-6 heartbreaker to North Tama June 24 and suffered a 10-1 setback against Janesville June 27 before wrapping up the regular season with a 10-3 victory at Colfax-Mingo.

The Royals caught a tough break in their Class 1A district opener, falling to Gladbrook-Reinbeck by a 5-3 score to see their season come to an end.

"The biggest challenge was definitely the compacted schedule," Frohwein said. "We played way more weeks with four or more games than we normally play.  We had a stretch where we played 11 games in 11 days due to having to reschedule both Baxter games that were rained out.  We were able to go 7-4 during that stretch and our pitchers did a great job of being efficient and helping us manage the pitch count, but it was challenging physically and mentally."

Frohwein said the sweep of Collins-Maxwell behind a big home run from senior Andrew Grover in the first game and a one-hitter by junior Spencer Hansen in the second was a big highlight for his team during the season. Hansen tying Matt Anderson and J.T. Adams for the most wins in school history at 14 with one season to go was another huge highlight.

Alex Rouse tying Christian Reischauer's record for fielding percentage in a season at 97.4 % and Kaleb Gray breaking Taylor Hill's record for most runners thrown out from behind the plate for a career with 26 also stood out for the Royals.

The improved depth of the Royal pitching staff was a big reason the team emerged from its busy schedule with a winning record.

The Royals had three players hit 30 innings on the mound. They totaled five pitchers with at least 10 innings of work and six different pitchers picked up a victory.

Last season Hansen accounted for all but one of Colo-NESCO's victories and he was the only pitcher to throw more than 30 innings.

"Our biggest improvement from last year occurred in the depth of our pitching staff," Frohwein said. "We lowered our team ERA by almost two runs per game. The overall depth was much better and really showed up outside of the conference as we were able to win six non-conference games. It also helped us better navigate the parts of the schedule with five or six games a week."

Junior Kaleb Gray was a valuable contributor offensively (hitting over .300) and defensively (throwing out 10 base runners at catcher) for Colo-NESCO in 2022.

Sophomore Drew Banks was the breakout star for the Colo-NESCO pitching staff this season.

Banks came back from an injury that cost him nearly all of his freshman year to go 5-2 with a team-best 2.12 ERA. He struck out 44 batters and walked 33 in 43 innings.

Hansen was unable to repeat his magical 8-0 sophomore season, but he still had a good year for the Royals. Hansen finished 3-4 with a 4.80 ERA, 45 strikeouts and 35 walks in 35 innings.

Ben Rouse also had a breakout year on the hill for the Royals. The senior was 2-3 with a 3.23 ERA, 28 strikeouts and just six walks in 34 2/3 innings.

Freshman Breckin Clatt was 1-0 with a 3.87 ERA in 12 2/3 innings. Alex Rouse threw 11 innings and went 1-0 with a 4.45 ERA and Lucas Frohwein was 1-1 in 8 1/3 innings.

Colo-NESCO supported its pitching staff with a solid defense. The Royals recorded a 91.8 % team fielding average.

Gray threw out 10 base runners and only had three errors in 136 chances at catcher. Alex Rouse only made two errors in 130 chances at first base, senior Kenny Cutler just one in 44 in the outfield, Grover two in 37, Clatt five in 56, Banks seven in 56, Ben Rouse seven in 44, junior Clay Gilmore seven in 27, senior Ephram Muntz four in 19.

Hansen had 13 errors in 93 chances with 34 assists at shortstop and Luas Frohwein only two errors in 14 chances on defense.

Brandon Frohwein said hitting is where Colo-NESCO improved the most as the season progressed. The Royals scored 178 runs and hit .271 with 43 doubles, two triples, four homers and 65 steals.

"Our biggest improvement during the season was probably hitting," Brandon Frohwein said. "We did not hit very well the first part of the season, but really started hitting better as we hit the middle of the season. We also had better power numbers than in past years. We hit four home runs this year and we hadn't hit a home run for multiple years."

Grover had a breakout senior season. He hit .347 with nine doubles, three homers, 26 runs and 21 RBIs.

Hansen hit .361 with 10 doubles, one homer, 20 runs and 19 RBIs. Cutler posted a .351 average with six doubles, 24 runs, 19 steals and 15 RBIs.

Gray also hit over .300. He recorded a .309 average with six doubles and 14 RBIs.

Banks hit .267 with two doubles and 11 runs and RBIs apiece. Clatt tallied a .235 average with three doubles and 13 runs, Lucas Frohwein hit .224 with three doubles, two triples, 21 runs and 10 RBIs and Ben Rouse had a .216 average with 13 runs and 12 RBIs.

Muntz hit .214 with 15 runs and 13 RBIs. Alex Rouse scored four times and drove in three runs and Trenton Beard scored seven runs.

It will be tough for Colo-NESCO to replace a large group of nine seniors including two managers. The Royals will miss Grover, Cutler, the Rouse twins, Muntz, Hayden Backous and Bradyn Carroll.

"In their first three years of high school I don't believe we had a winning season in any boys sport," Brandon Frohwein said. "They had a couple years in baseball that we came close but just couldn't get over the top. They were able to have a winning season in the last two sports seasons (basketball and baseball) of their high school careers and that is a tribute to the work they put into it on and off the field and their senior leadership.  It goes without saying that we are going to miss this group of young men, they have made my job pretty easy this year."  

But with Hansen, Banks and Gray leading the way the Royals will have the potential for another winning season and maybe even an ISC South Division title in 2023.

"I do think we have a chance to be pretty good next year and I know our senior class would like to see the underclassmen build on the foundation they have started," Brandon Frohwein said. "We will return a large portion of our pitching staff next year, including 10 wins out of underclassmen pitchers. We will need some younger guys to step up as we lose some key hitters and fielders.  I feel like there are some young guys that are up for the challenge, but they will need to put in the work if we want to continue to improve as a team."