Seth Koch and his South Tama baseball players, along with their families, celebrated the 2012 season last week and looked ahead to what could be a promising season next year.
Koch, STC's head baseball coach, talked to the players and families about the Trojans' season. They finished 15-14, which was their first winning season in almost a decade, and placed third out of eight teams in the North Iowa Cedar League West Division.
"This year was a huge improvement from 3-30 (last year's record)," Koch said. "I think the change in conferences did nothing but help us, from a competitive standpoint and a participation standpoint. Hopefully the success we had will encourage more kids to give baseball a try or get some kids out who have played before but not in high school. Hopefully those kids will come back out."
Five South Tama County baseball players were selected to the All-Conference Team this summer. They are (l-r) Noah Bearden, Jacob Clark, Grant Koch and Chase Schuett. Not pictured is Kolton Smith.
Of the 15 wins, no STC pitcher won more than three games on the mound. However, seven different pitchers won at least one game for the Trojans.
"When you have no starters with more than three wins and you won 15 games as a team, that says you're pretty balanced as a pitching staff," Koch said. "That's what we're hoping for from our pitchers."
Koch also talked about the Trojans' goals for the season. One of those was to improve each week. The Trojans finished most weeks of their season with a .500 record or better, which was another goal.
"We're 0-2 in the last week," Koch said. "Ballard was a 4-3 game where we were right there but fell short. Then we unfortunately lose the Vinton game. That's a score that didn't indicate how close it was. It was a very competitive game for five innings and unfortunately we let them have a crooked number in the sixth inning.
"We told the kids we want to improve every week," he said. "I think we did. I think we can even say that about the last week. Hopefully we can do that next year, too."
Koch recapped his season review talking about how the players learned how to win games, which hadn't happened in previous years. He enjoyed the season and his players.
"It was a fun group of kids to work with," Koch said. "They learned how to play the game this summer and the type of enthusiasm, energy and intensity it takes to win baseball games. I think we turned the corner as a program.
"We didn't have a lot of success in previous years," he said. "You hate to say we didn't know how to win, but we really didn't know how to win. Even when you look at our 14 losses, most of those were to teams ranked in the top 10 in 2A or 3A. A lot of those games were close games. There were less than three games that I thought we didn't show up to play."
After talking about the season, Koch and assistant coach Dustin Peska handed out awards and athletic letters. South Tama had five players selected to the NICL West All-Conference teams. They were Jacob Clark (first team outfield), Kolton Smith (first team short stop), Noah Bearden (first team catcher), Grant Koch (second team utility player) and Chase Schuett (third team outfield).
"When we can put five kids on the all-conference teams, that's a big deal," Koch said. "We haven't had more than one in the last four or five years. In the Little Hawkeye, we were lucky to get one kid on all-conference. It was nice to get those kids recognized."
Bearden was also chosen as the First Team Catcher on the All-District teams. He wasn't able to play in the district game, because of an inury he suffered late in the season to his finger, but his numbers at the plate and behind the plate earned him the honor.
STC also had a handful of players recognized for academic achievement. Five players received certificates for making the All-Conference Academic Team. They were Clay Waterbury, Bearden, Sam Kuhter, Landon Mathes and Trevor Rohach.
"They're a bright set of kids," Koch said. "They really are. The thing is if they went with freshmen and sophomores, we would have more. I know both sophomores and at least half of those freshmen have good enough GPAs to get recognized for that."
As the annual postseason banquet came to a close, Koch and his players talked about next year. He talked to them about working hard in the fall and winter, before the baseball season begins next spring. He hopes they continue coming in twice a week to work on pitching and hitting.
The Trojans lose only two seniors (Clark and Schuett) from this year's roster. Nearly all of their pitchers return, as Clark was the only senior who threw in varsity games.
"Our nucleus is back next year," Koch said. "We have eight pitchers and seven starters returning. Sam will probably come back as our true No. 1 pitcher if he works on his breaking ball in the offseason. Clay will be solid for us again. Tank Keckler was a pleasant surprise on the mound. He pitched in some games he should have won and didn't. We're going to look for big things out of him next year.
"Looking at our underclassmen, Grant had some quality starts for us and Dalton Doyle threw really well as freshmen," he said. "I think Nate Hala and Kolton Smith as our sophomore class could be really big on the mound. Kolton battled some arm issues early in the season. I think that group of seven kids could be tough for us from a pitching standpoint."
In the field, STC will be replacing Clark and Schuett in center and left field. Kuhter played center field in many games for the Trojans, but Schuett left a void in left field. Otherwise, the Trojans return their entire infield.
"Defensively, we're going to have to find some outfielders," Koch said. "Kaleb and Sam will come back for us in right and center field. We'll have to find someone to play center field when Sam is pitching. We've talked to Clay about moving to left field and he's very receptive to that. If we can find a couple young kids who can help us out there in a spot situation, that would be big."