Quality experience, good balance and an overpowering ace pitcher combined to give the Collins-Maxwell-Baxter baseball team the most memorable season in program history in 2016.

CMB entered the season on an upward trend. After winning just one game three years ago, the Raiders picked up eight victories in 2014 and last summer they went 10-15 and reached the district championship round in Class 2A.

With a veteran class led by an all-state pitcher, CMB was poised for even bigger things in 2016. They ended up 14-12 overall and 7-8 in the Heart of Iowa Conference, won a district title and then reached the Holy Grail by qualifying for state for the first time in program history.

“Seeing this group of guys make it to state was a great way to end the season,” CMB head coach Max Seeman said. “We obviously would have liked to make it even farther, but these guys were a very special group. They have been through some not-so-great seasons, so to have them keep coming back and wanting to succeed made seeing them make the state tournament that much more rewarding.”

Signs of this being a special season were evident right off the bat. CMB took its first four games, winning at Gilbert and Greene County and getting home wins over Nevada and Prairie City-Monroe.

The Raiders went into a bit of a slump from June 3-14. They lost five in a row, with setbacks at South Hamilton and Roland-Story and home losses to Saydel, Gilbert and North Polk.

But unlike previous seasons, CMB didn’t allow the rough stretch to last for very long. The Raiders bounced back by winning three in a row over Nevada, South Hamilton and Greene County.

On June 18, CMB split two games at the Rose Festival tournament in State Center. They lost a pair of close road games to North Polk and PCM on June 20 and 22 and then scored one of their most impressive wins over the season by whipping a 19-win 3A school in Ballard, 11-0, June 23 at Collins.

From June 28 through July 5, CMB dropped three straight. The Raiders fell at Colfax-Mingo and Woodward-Granger and then suffered a 7-1 home loss to Roland-Story.

But with the regular season winding down, CMB regrouped and became a more focused and determined squad. The end result was a five-game winning streak that carried the Raiders right into the state tournament.

CMB finished the regular season with a 3-2 home win over Madrid. Three days later, the Raiders opened 2A district play with a 9-0 dismantling of South Hamilton.

Ace hurler Brady Stover struck out 11 batters in five innings to help get the shutout win over South Hamilton. He was just getting warmed up.

In the district semifinals Stover was virtually unhittable, tossing a one-hitter with an incredible 19 strikeouts and just one walk in a 3-0 Raider triumph against Des Moines Christian. Four days later he faced No. 9 Roland-Story for the district title and didn’t miss a beat, striking out 19 again with just four walks over nine innings to lead CMB to a dramatic 3-0 upset win over the Norsemen and their first district title under Seeman.

Riding the momentum from the Roland-Story win and with a state tournament berth in its grasp, there was no stopping CMB against Ogden in the 2A substate round. Stover struck out 18 and the Raiders rolled to a 6-1 triumph to realize their dream of getting to the state tournament.

“The most enjoyable part about this season was making that postseason run and qualifying for state,” Seeman said. “Only eight teams in 2A get to say they made it to the baseball state tournament and we were one of those teams.”

At the state tournament, CMB opened against Kuemper Catholic in the 2A quarterfinals on July 25 at Principal Park in Des Moines.

Stover was starting to feel some fatigue from his amazing postseason run, but he still threw a strong game against the Knights to help get the game into the eighth inning. He also had a big game-tying RBI single in the seventh inning, and Travis Lindemoen and Nate Bishop also came up with big hits in the seventh for CMB to help them rally from a 2-0 deficit to force an extra frame.

But in the bottom of the eighth, Kuemper Catholic plated the winning run to hand the Raiders a 3-2 loss and end their dream run.

“Playing in the state tournament at Principal Park would have to be the biggest highlight,” Seeman said. “It was just a bummer we couldn’t keep playing.”

The setback to Kuemper Catholic did nothing to take away from the momentous achievements made by CMB in 2016.

“This season was one of the most exciting seasons I have ever been a part of, as a player or a coach,” Seeman said. “We definitely had our ups and downs, but looking back at it and the run we made in the postseason made those downs a little more bearable. We were bummed we couldn’t continue our run at the state tournament, but all of the guys have so much to be proud of and I am glad they got to experience playing in the state tournament at Principal Park.”

As a team, CMB scored 130 runs and hit .270 with a .381 on-base average, .306 slugging average, 18 doubles, two home runs and 52 steals in 61 attempts during the season. Last year, the Raiders only scored 100 runs on a .239 batting average.

CMB had its ups and downs in the field. The Raiders only had a .908 team fielding average with 499 putouts, 135 assists and 64 errors.

But improved pitching more than made up for the lack of consistency in the field. CMB posted a 3.04 staff earned-run average and allowed just 121 runs, compared to the 4.61 ERA and 140 runs the Raiders gave up in 2015.

Stover was amazing in his senior campaign. He was named first-team all-state in 2A by the INA after going 7-1, ranking fourth in 2A with an 0.64 ERA, allowing teams to hit a measly .098 off him and leading the entire state in strikeouts with 140 against just 24 walks in 65 ⅔ innings.

Junior Hunter McWhirter gave CMB an excellent No. 2 option. He went 1-2, but had an excellent 1.11 ERA with 30 strikeouts against just nine walks and he only allowed opposing teams to hit .237 off him in 25 ⅓ innings.

Seniors Brady Kemp and Brady Ritter also stepped up to give CMB some reliable innings when Stover wasn’t on the mound.

Kemp was 1-4 with a 4.13 ERA, 11 strikeouts and eight walks in 20 ⅓ innings. Ritter went 1-1 with a 3.42 ERA, 10 strikeouts, five walks and a .237 opponent batting average in 14 ⅓ innings.

Nate Bishop also provided quality work as he went 3-1 with a 5.48 ERA, 20 strikeouts and 23 walks in 23 innings. Tucker Maxwell went 1-1 in 6 ⅓ innings of work for the Raiders.

On offense, CMB was led by Ritter, Kemp, Stover and junior first baseman Creighton Caple.

Ritter hit .393 with a .532 OBA, .459 slugging average, four doubles, 13 runs, 13 RBI and seven steals. Splitting time between the outfield, catching and pitching, he made 60 putouts, 11 assists, only four errors and threw out seven base runners.

Kemp hit .386 with a .471 OBA and .507 slugging average and he smacked nine doubles with 20 runs and 23 RBI. Playing in the outfield, behind the plate and at third base, Kemp posted a perfect fielding average in 30 chances with 19 putouts, 11 assists and two runners thrown out.

Stover hit .333 with a .394 OBA, two doubles, one home run, 17 runs, 11 RBI and a team-high 16 steals. Playing in center field when he wasn’t pitching, Stover had 49 putouts, six assists and just two errors on the season.

Caple hit .279 with a .413 OBA, 16 runs, nine RBI and six steals. At first base he recorded 82 putouts and seven assists with just three errors.

Sophomore Travis Lindemoen came on late as an offensive weapon at the bottom of the order.

Lindemoen had clutch hits in the upset of Roland-Story and the state loss to Kuemper. He hit .286 with a .375 OBA, six runs and four RBI in only 21 at-bats.

Lindemoen took over the catching duties late in the season. He made 104 putouts, six assists and only two errors and also threw out two base runners.

Outfielder Spencer Gauch was another weapon at the bottom of the order for CMB. He also came up with a big hit in the Roland-Story win and he hit .237 with a .408 OBA, 17 runs, six RBI and 12 steals in 12 attempts.

Playing in the outfield and at shortstop, Gauch made 28 putouts and nine assists.

Infielders Brady Ross, Aric Broderick and Bishop all had batting averages over .200 on the season.

Ross hit .258 with a .352 OBA, 15 runs and six RBI and Broderick hit . 224 with a .357 OBA, two doubles, one home run and 11 RBI. Bishop posted a .211 average with a .328 OBA, seven runs and nine RBI.

In the field Ross made 20 assists and 14 putouts and Broderick had 17 putouts and 13 assists. Bishop recorded 31 assists and 13 putouts at shortstop and on the mound.

McWhirter made 67 putouts, 17 assists and only five errors with one runner thrown out, splitting time between second base, pitcher and catcher and Maxwell recorded 25 putouts and one assist in the outfield. At the plate McWhirter had a .265 OBA with four runs and five RBI and Maxwell posted a .279 OBA with one double, four runs and six RBI.

Stover, Gauch, Ritter, Broderick, Bishop and Joe Estrella represent a senior class that took CMB from one win as freshman to the state tournament as seniors.

“This senior class has done so much for the CMB community,” Seeman said. “The fact they went through some tough baseball seasons and came back and believed in themselves and everyone else on the team says a lot about them as young men. Thinking back to my first year as CMB’s head coach when these guys were freshmen really shows me how hard they have worked and how determined they have been and it makes me very proud to be their coach. This will be a tough group to say goodbye to, but they have done a nice job of showing the younger guys what it means to be a CMB baseball player.”

It will be tough to fill the void left by the outgoing senior class next season. But Seeman said the cupboard isn’t bare at CMB.

“I am optimistic for next season,” Seeman said. “We will have another strong senior class with a lot of experience, and I am looking forward to getting better this offseason.”