The 2014 season went according to plan for the Colo-Nesco softball team as the Royals ended up playing their best ball at the end of the season.
With a young team featuring an eighth-grade pitcher and only two healthy seniors, Colo-Nesco had to endure their lumps during an up-and-down regular season. But the Royals hit their stride at exactly the right time as they won two regional games before succombing to eventual Class 1A third-place finisher AGWSR.
“The season went well,” Colo-Nesco head coach Stan Oppedal said. “We finished pretty strong. Our pitching got better and better, we hit the ball well, played pretty good defense and had good chemistry. It was a great bunch of kids.”
With eighth-grader Mackenna Ruffcorn taking over for long-time starter Erica Babinat on the mound, the Royals went through some early struggles. They dropped their first six games before winning a 9-8 thriller at Clarksville on June 7.
Colo-Nesco followed its Clarksville win with a 14-3 drubbing of GMG at McCallsburg. The
Royals then fell to a 3A school in Nevada by an 11-6 score, but they went on to win four of their next five games.
On June 11, Colo-Nesco thumped Tripoli by a 13-0 score and they scored another shutout over CAL the next day by a 6-0 margin. On June 14 the Royals split with Marion and South Tama, and two days later they knocked off North Tama by a 13-3 score in McCallsburg.
A rough stretch began for Colo-Nesco at the Kiwanis Invitational on June 21 in Roland. The Royals fell to Gilbert and Roland-Story to start a stretch where they lost six out of seven games.
Colo-Nesco lost to Don Bosco by an 8-7 score and at home to Janesville by a 10-0 margin following the Kiwanis Invitational. On June 27 the Royals crushed GMG by a 13-0 score, but they were handed 7-1 and 12-2 losses by Dunkerton and North Tama respectively to end the regular season.
But the Royals saved their best for last.
Colo-Nesco rebounded from its final regular-season losses to dispose of Southeast Webster-Grand in the opening round of 1A regionals, 6-4. Colo-Nesco then advanced to the semifinals with a 7-3 quarterfinal triumph over Grandview Park Baptist July 9 at McCallsburg.
In the semifinals the Royals met up with a powerhouse AGWSR team that finished the regular season rated No. 4 in 1A. Colo-Nesco was no match for the Cougars, suffering an 11-0 setback, but the loss took nothing away from the Royals’ previous two regional outings.
“It’s a good omen for a team to get stronger at the end of the year,” Oppedal said. “I’m pretty proud of that.”
For the season Colo-Nesco scored 138 runs, hitting .254 as a team, with identical on-base and slugging averages of .337. The Royals tallied 31 doubles, five triples and five home runs and they stole 68 bases in 72 attempts.
Last season Colo-Nesco scored 111 runs in 23 games.
On defense Colo-Nesco gave up 154 runs this summer after allowing 159 a year ago. This year’s Royal pitchers posted an earned-run average of 6.01 with 68 strikeouts and 87 walks in 139 ⅔ innings and Colo-Nesco fielded at an 89-percent clip with 328 putouts, 176 assists and 63 errors in 567 chances.
Senior Madison Farren stepped up to be the top player for Colo-Nesco this season.
After hitting .241 with nine runs and 11 RBI last year, Farren hit .405 this season with 18 runs and 29 RBI. Farren recorded a .460 OBA and .608 slugging average this summer as she finished with eight doubles, one triple, two home runs and eight steals.
In the outfield Farren made 24 putouts and one assist with just one error.
Junior Hannah Buseman was Colo-Nesco’s other player to hit over .300 during the season. Buseman hit .338 with two doubles and triples apiece, and she finished with 19 runs, 22 RBI and nine steals.
At first base Buseman made 112 putouts and 14 assists and she only had six errors.
Freshman shortstop Kassie Robinson just missed the .300 mark as she hit .290 with two doubles, nine runs and 11 RBI. Robinson also had 27 assists and 19 putouts in the field.
Ruffcorn, Kylie Sarver, Sam Riese and Shayla Dean all hit over .200 for Colo-Nesco this season.
Ruffcorn hit .257 with three doubles, two triples, 11 runs and 23 RBI and she only made two errors all season in the field. Sarver posted a .250 average with seven doubles, 26 runs, eight RBI and 15 steals as the team’s leadoff hitter and she also threw out an impressive 18 runners in the field.
Riese also hit .250 and she was one of the top power hitters on the team with five doubles and three home runs. Riese also scored and drove in nine runs apiece.
Dean finished with a .214 average and she had an OBA of .333. She swiped a team-high 22 bases and scored 25 runs and at third base she made 46 assists and 26 putouts.
Chelsea Henze took over second base as an eighth grader. Henze hit .180 with 110 runs and 10 RBI and she ended up with 43 putouts and 23 assists in the field.
Sophomore outfielder Peyton Hall was the other Royal to see regular time at the plate.
Hall hit .129 in 70 at-bats with nine runs and eight RBI. In the field she recorded 13 putouts and didn’t commit an error.
Freshman Grace Stalzer was Colo-Nesco’s other regular in the outfield. She recorded 10 putouts.
Junior Melanie Van Loon produced a .267 OBA in 12 at-bats and she also made two assists and putouts apiece in the field. Michelle Babinat - another junior - reached base once in four at-bats and eighth grader Josie Leuthje picked up one hit in three at-bats.
McKenna Farren - Madison’s twin sister - was injured for most of the year. In limited time she recorded one hit in three at-bats and made six putouts in as many chances in the field.
Ruffcorn handled most of the pitching duties. She went 9-14 with a 5.61 ERA, .239 opponent batting average, 66 strikeouts and 72 walks in 131 innings.
Riese threw five innings and had an ERA of 8.40 with a .194 opponent batting average, eight walks and two strikeouts in five innings. Leuthje threw 2 ⅔ innings and went 0-1 with five walks and Robinson issued two walks in one inning of work.
Even though only two seniors played regularly this season in Madison Farren and Sarver, Oppedahl said it will be tough to lose those two, plus McKenna Farren.
“We had great senior leadership,” Oppedahl said. “That was instrumental in our success.”
But with the bulk of the team coming back, the Royals can expect improvement in 2015.
“This is one of the best groups I’ve had in terms of chemistry,” Oppedahl said. “Mackenna (Ruffcorn) did a nice job pitching and she’s a hard worker. We’ll have four or five seniors next year, plus some good young kids coming up. We’ll still be young, but it’ll be fun.”