CMB's Brady Stover was voted the Ames Tribune all-area baseball player of the year.
COLLINS — On a hot summer day at the Collins Baseball Field, Brady Stover is talking about his team’s last five games of the 2016 season. The Collins-Maxwell-Baxter senior pitched every single one of them, totaling 35 2/3 innings and 77 strikeouts while allowing 10 hits and four runs.
Those numbers, while aesthetically pleasing to Raider fans, were also part of a larger plan. CMB coach Max Seeman talked with Stover ahead of the regular season about saving his dominant arm for the postseason. He wanted him healthy for a potential state run.
The plan worked, as Stover almost singlehandedly carried the Raiders to the Class 2A state tournament, a first in program history. His pitching numbers were among the best in Iowa, and a large reason why he was voted the Ames Tribune all-area baseball player of the year.
“It’s been a special experience,” Stover said. “Coming into this year, I really wanted to get first-team all-state, first-team all-conference, because last year, I got second team on everything.
“I think that was my drive this year, to try to be the best, and that was my drive every time I pitched.”
For the entire summer, Stover finished with a 7-1 record on 65 2/3 innings pitched. The 6-foot-1 southpaw struck out 140 batters, the most in the state, and posted a 0.64 earned-run average while allowing just 21 hits. Opponents hit just .098 against him this season.
But there was a moment, long before he set foot on the mound with a 92-mile-per-hour fast ball, when Stover almost became a righty.
When Stover was a baby, his dad, Wes, noticed one night that he was eating with his left hand. Wes then took the spoon and put it in Stover’s right hand. His mom saw, and said, “No, no, no. If he’s eating with his left, we’re going to make him a lefty.”
Dad soon relented, and a few years later, in first grade, Stover stepped onto the mound as a pitcher for the first time. His pitches were all over the place those first few years. One might sail high into the fence behind home, he said. The next might plunk the batter’s helmet.
In fourth grade, Stover began taking lessons at the Ridge Sports Academy with Mitch Wylie, who played professionally for 11 seasons, including six in the Chicago White Sox minor league system. Wylie remembers Stover as a raw beginner who pumped gas with each throw.
“It was one of those situations where we used to have to count how many times he could throw it to me without hitting the top of the net or the side of the net in a row,” Wylie said. “After he got 10 or 15, we put him on the mound and started working on mechanics.”
Wylie began by showing Stover video of good left-handed pitchers. He pointed out their release points, how they led with their hips and kept their chests closed. He would then record Stover, compare the tapes, then go out and work some more.
Stover continued to make gains up through his freshman year. Once there, Wylie included Stover in his eight-game winter leagues. He threw 30-35 pitches an outing against juniors and seniors. Wylie remembers him being intimidated.
“He wanted to come out,” Wylie said. “He was nervous, throwing the ball into the ground and all over the place. I said, 'Hey man, you’re out there, you need to figure it out.' I think that was a huge stepping stone for him, just because he had to figure it out.
“He struggled most of that year, but he started figuring it out toward the end. The next winter, he was a completely different kid. By his junior year, he was really putting it together, and this past year, I think he gave up one hit in eight games. He looked really good.”
Stover soon parlayed that off-season work into summer success. Over the last two seasons, he faced 367 batters and fanned 231 of them. Sixty-three percent of the batters to set foot in the box against him went down on strikes.
“He’s just unbelievable,” Seeman said after Stover helped CMB punch its ticket to state.
This year was, without question, Stover’s best. He was a first-team choice to the Iowa Newspaper Association Class 2A all-state team, and also represented the Small School West team at the 2016 Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association All-Star Series last week.
Stover hopes he’ll find the same success over the next few years at South Dakota State, where he’ll be given the opportunity to play as a freshman, should he prove himself worthy. After willing CMB to state, he said he’s ready for just about anything.
“I’m grateful for all the help I’ve gotten through pitching,” Stover said, “and the connections I have now through everything. It’s been a great experience.”