A year of experience under head coach Nick Steenhagen made a big difference for the Ballard baseball program in 2016 as the Bombers improved by 6.5 games from a year ago.

Steenhagen took over the program in 2015 and it was a rebuilding process as the Bomber players got used to a new system. All it took was a year of growth and Ballard became a much better team during Steenhagen’s second term.

The Bombers finished 19-12 overall and 9-5 in the Raccoon River Conference this season. Those are marked improvements from 2015 as the Bombers nearly completely reversed the 13-19 and 5-9 marks they put up a year ago.

“Our success this year really came from guys buying, trusting the process and believing in each other,” Steenhagen said. “This team has so much potential and it was fun to see them improve on last year. It will be awesome to see what will happen over the next couple years.”

The season began with a bang. The Bombers started off 12-2, including a nine-game winning streak from June 4-15

Ballard downed Dallas Center-Grimes and Ogden on the road, then pounded Madrid by a 16-1 score in its home opener to start the season.

The Bombers lost a tough 2-0 battle at Urbandale and suffered a 10-4 home loss to eventual Class 3A state runner-up Carlisle in their next two games. They followed with a sweep over Gilbert and Webster City by 10-9 and 19-1 scores to begin their big winning streak.

On June 6, Ballard won a 6-4 battle at Bondurant-Farrar and two days later, the the Bombers edged Winterset in an 8-7 thriller. Ballard then won a 19-12 slugfest over Perry and pulled off a doubleheader sweep over Adel-Desoto-Minburn by scores of 9-8 and 9-2.

Ballard crushed non-conference rival Nevada by a 12-0 score on June 14 in Nevada, and followed that up with a 7-0 home victory over Carroll. A powerful Boone team that took second in the RRC snapped Ballard’s big win streak with a 10-0 win over the Bombers on June 17.

On June 18, Ballard split games with Gilbert and BGM at its home invitational. The Bombers suffered a 9-5 loss to Gilbert and they edged BGM by a 4-3 score.

Ballard rolled to a 14-4 home win over Iowa Falls-Alden on June 21. Then the Bombers suffered through their toughest stretch of the season with a four-game losing skid.

An 11-0 loss to eventual 2A state qualifier Collins-Maxwell-Baxter on June 23 started the losing streak. Ballard also lost at Carlisle by a 10-3 score, at home to Bondurant-Farrar by a 7-5 margin and against Pella Christian by a 10-7 decision at Principal Park.

The losing streak came to a close with a 14-9 win over non-conference rival North Polk in Slater on June 28. Ballard lost at Winterset, won a 10-7 battle at Perry and suffered a competitive 2-0 setback with top-five 3A power Pella in its next three games.

Ballard closed out the regular season by winning three of its final four games.

Those wins included an 11-0 drubbing of Carroll, a 6-3 home upset of then No. 2 Boone and a 6-5 victory over Gilbert in the final regular-season game. A 13-6 home loss to DCG on June 11 was Ballard’s only loss during the stretch to conclude the regular season.

The Bombers weren’t able to carry the momentum of their final week of the regular season into the postseason. They suffered a 5-2 loss in a rematch with Gilbert during the 3A district semifinals to end the season.

“We had several highlights this summer,” Steenhagen said. “Our 2-0 losses to Urbandale and Pella (who both made it to state), our game at Principal Park and a couple extra-inning wins. Most importantly, we flipped our record from last year to this year (and) improved in almost every statistical category.”

Hitting was the strong point for Ballard in 2016. The Bombers scored 227 runs - an average of 7.3 per game - and hit .322 with respective .411 and .457 on-base and slugging averages and 56 doubles, 12 triples, 11 home runs and 91 steals in 109 attempts.

Ballard ranked 24th in total runs scored among 3A teams. The Bombers also rated 11th in team batting average, 17th in OBA and seventh in slugging average among 3A teams and they ranked 10th in homers and tied for 11th in steals.

On the mound Ballard gave up 175 runs - an average of 5.7 per game - on an opponent batting average of .223. The Bomber pitching staff posted an earned-run average of 4.06 - easily besting the 6.29 mark they had in 2015 - and they recorded 173 strikeouts and 127 walks in 196 ⅔ innings.

The Bombers had a team fielding average of .944 this season with 588 putouts, 207 assists and 47 errors in 842 chances.

Seniors Jonny Luster, Marcus Chieves and Kobe Schulze; junior Austin Edwards and freshman Brooks Fleischmann all hit over .300 for Ballard during the season.

Luster was second-team all-RRC. He hit at an incredible .468 clip with a .538 OBA, .709 slugging average, 11 walks, seven doubles, four home runs, 32 runs, 35 RBI and 21 steals in 22 attempts.

At shortstop, Luster made 25 assists and 19 putouts.

Chieves and Schulze were both all-RRC picks.

Chieves hit .348 with a .453 OBA, .652 slugging average, five doubles, eight triples, two home runs, 28 runs, 22 RBI, 12 walks and 10 steals in 12 attempts. His eight triples tied him for first among all 3A batters.

In the outfield and on the mound, Chieves made 39 putouts, five assists and only two errors.

Schulze hit .396 with a .467 OBA, .500 slugging average, nine doubles, one triple, 11 walks, 34 runs, 13 RBI and 11 steals. Playing both in the outfield and infield, Schulze made 34 putouts and 32 assists.

Edwards hit .409 with a .491 OBA, .656 slugging average, nine doubles, one triple, four home runs, 14 walks, 23 runs, 28 RBI and seven steals, batting from the cleanup spot in the order. At first base and on the mound, he produced 153 putouts, 13 assists and only one error.

Fleischmann gave Ballard a weapon at the bottom of the batting order. He hit .323 with one double, 19 runs, 14 RBI and five steals.

In the outfield Fleischmann made 24 putouts and one assist with no errors.

Junior catcher Clayton Poots just missed the .300 mark with a .291 batting average. Poots recorded a .317 OBA and .400 slugging average respectively, and he hit four doubles, one triple and drove in six runs.

Poots threw out 11 base runners and delivered a .970 fielding percentage with 144 putouts, 16 assists and five errors in 165 chances.

Senior Lane Shaeffer and junior Taylor Roberts hit .266 and .265 respectively as regulars for Ballard on offense.

Shaeffer had a .376 OBA with two doubles, one home run, 11 runs, 14 walks and 17 RBI. In the field he made 13 putouts, four assists and only one error.

Roberts posted a .365 OBA with four doubles, 18 runs, 18 RBI and eight steals. At third base he recorded 29 assists and 23 putouts.

Sophomore second baseman Gannon Manfull hit .238 with a .363 slugging average, 10 doubles, 11 runs and 13 RBI. In the field he was outstanding - recording 45 assists, 24 putouts and just two errors.

Junior Noah Rosing, senior Nick Fopma, freshman Jack Luster and sophomore Isaac Schafbuch all were productive reserves with at least 10 at-bats during the season.

Rosing hit .333 with a .556 OBA; he was a terror on the base paths with 11 steals and 22 runs. Fopma hit .300 with one double, one triple, 10 runs and seven steals.

Jack Luster finished with a .292 average and five RBI. Schafbuch posted a .289 OBA with two doubles, five runs and six RBI.

On the mound Ballard was led by second-team all-RRC pick Colin Anderson and all-conference honorable mention selection Kai Reinertson.

Anderson went 4-1 with a 1.58 ERA, 42 strikeouts and only nine walks with a .200 opponent batting average and one save in 40 innings during his sophomore season. Reinertson was 3-1 with a 4.51 ERA, 44 strikeouts, 15 walks and a .232 opponent batting average and one save in 35 ⅔ innings.

Edwards threw 39 ⅓ innings and went 1-6 with a 4.09 ERA, 37 strikeouts, 36 walks and a .188 opponent batting average.

Jack Luster was 3-1 with a .300 ERA, 14 strikeouts, 13 walks and a .237 opponent batting average in 18 ⅔ innings. Manfull went 1-1 with a 6.38 ERA, 17 strikeouts and 16 walks in 18 ⅔ innings.

Chieves threw 12 ⅓ innings and went 1-1 with a 4.54 ERA and Schulze was 1-1 with two saves and a 2.40 ERA in 11 ⅔ innings. Roberts went 1-1 in 11 ⅓ innings and Shaeffer was 1-1 in 6 ⅓ innings of work.

Next season Ballard must replace some big bats and big arms in Jonny Luster, Chieves, Schulze, Reinertson, Shaeffer and Fopma.

“The seniors worked hard and gave a lot to the program,” Steenhagen said. “They were a great group of young men. It was great getting to know them the past few years and I thank them for contributing and laying the groundwork for Ballard baseball over the next few years. They definitely helped people see what we are capable of and I wish them the best of luck.”

But Steenhagen is confident the Bombers can take the next step in 2017.

“We have some great young players coming up and some upperclassmen with a lot of experience who will be great leaders,” Steenhagen said. “I think we will compete at an even higher level next year.”