Nick Steenhagen, of Ballard, was voted the Ames Tribune all-area baseball coach of the year in 2016.
HUXLEY — Nick Steenhagen called for the short team meeting in November. The Ballard baseball coach was just a few months removed from his first season at the helm, so he called on his leaders before they began preseason workouts.
This second season, he told them, would be different. Workouts will start earlier and be more intense. There will be a strong emphasis on defense. Steenhagen and his leaders reconvened every Friday throughout the spring to put together their expectations for the summer of 2016.
“When the goals ultimately got written out,” Steenhagen said, “We wanted our team batting average over .300, and two or less errors a game, and three or less walks per game from our pitchers. We achieved all of those.
“I think team success was a big goal for everybody.”
The Ballard baseball team went 19-12 this past summer in Steenhagen’s second season as coach. It was just the second winning season for the Bombers over the last six years, and their first since 2013.
Steenhagen’s ultimate goal, of course, is to establish a bonafide program at Ballard, but his efforts this past season saw him voted the Ames Tribune all-area baseball coach of the year.
“Honestly, I was like wow,” he said. “I’m certainly honored. I think it’s great. I think the biggest thing is it gives a nod to the players and the work that they put in. It’s big for Ballard baseball, for sure, because everybody knows that we’re on the right track and headed in the right direction.”
Steenhagen was brought on ahead of the 2015 season. The Bombers, to that point, were 53-71 over the last four years — which included a 21-loss season in 2011. He hoped to instill a new mindset in the players, but it took time before his methods gained traction.
“They were just used to doing things a certain way, from the previous coaching staff,” Steenhagen said. “There was just some growing pains. I had to hold kids more accountable than I had to this summer, as far as, the little things.”
It ultimately turned into a 13-19 season, wherein the Bombers lost 10 games by at least six runs. But they did find a way to edge then-No. 8 Boone, 3-2, a small glimpse into the talent the team ultimately possessed.
In order to tap into that potential, Steenhagen heightened everything around the program. Shortly after that November meeting, players showed up regularly for preseason workouts in the Ballard gym. Once the season hit, Steenhagen continued to emphasize defense and technique.
“Really, it was about a week and a half in, maybe two weeks (before we started hitting drills),” first baseman Austin Edwards told the Ames Tribune in late May. “We didn’t really touch a bat until about three or four practices before our first game.”
Ballard opened the season with three-straight wins, highlighted by a 16-1 thumping of Madrid on May 27. But six days later, in a 2-0 loss to Urbandale, Steenhagen knew his team was headed in the right direction.
“They played at the state tournament this year,” Steenhagen said. “From that, we learned that, hey, we can do this. We’re a good team. That was big for us. We threw one of our top guys and played great defense. We were scoreless through five (innings).
“They ended up getting two runs, but that was a 4A team that made it to state this year, and we lost just 2-0 against them. Last year, they came to our place and beat us 16-2. That was a big point for our guys. After that, they were like, you know, we’re pretty good.”
Ballard would rattle off nine-consecutive victories as it opened the season 12-2. The Bombers then stumbled during the back stretch of the season, culminating in a 5-2 loss to Gilbert in the district semifinals, but even then, Steenhagen saw real progress.
Moving forward, he hopes the team can parlay this past summer’s success into another step forward next summer. In a few months, he said, his team’s leaders will meet once again to begin listing off their goals for 2017.
The bigger and bolder, he added, the better.
“The ultimate goal,” he said, “is to obviously hold up that trophy at the end of the July.”