Taking on a loaded schedule with only three senior leaders made life difficult at times for the Roland-Story baseball team in 2019.
The Norsemen started off strong, but struggled through the second half of the year, facing nine ranked teams in their final 17 games of the regular season. After winning only six games during that final stretch, a young Roland-Story team easily could have thrown in the towel.
But that’s not what happened.
Roland-Story grew from constantly facing elite competition, and when Class 2A district play began, the team started playing its best ball of the season. The Norsemen won a district championship, pulling off a huge upset along the way, before succumbing to Des Moines Christian in substate play, finishing 19-19 overall and 3-10 in the Heart of Iowa Conference.
“This year was a roller coaster,” Roland-Story head coach Chris Hill said. “ Lots of ups, and some downs. We ended the year on a down, but so did every team but one in Class 2A. The guys ended this thing as one of the last 16 standing. I think all involved would say it was a pretty fun and memorable ride.”
That ride began with six wins in seven games. Roland-Story took down Perry (4-2) and South Hardin (9-1) in its first two games, then swept a doubleheader with Clear Lake by 11-1 and 7-3 scores and defeated Ankeny Christian Academy, 10-4.
On June 5, the Norsemen split a doubleheader with Greene County, earning a 6-5 victory and suffering an 11-3 setback. West Marshall swept Roland-Story by 11-5 and 14-9 scores the next day and on June 7, Prairie City-Monroe handed the Norsemen a 12-1 setback.
Roland-Story snapped out of its funk by sweeping back-to-back doubleheaders with Lenox and Nevada. The Norsemen downed Lenox by 12-2 and 9-4 scores and Nevada by 8-0 and 5-2 margins.
South Hamilton ended Roland-Story’s winning streak by taking both games in a doubleheader on June 14, 6-0 and 2-1. Saydel toppled the Norsemen by an 11-1 on June 17 and then the Norsemen began their tough backstretch, with 9-1 and 6-1 losses to a Gilbert squad that ended the regular season rated eighth in 3A.
The Norsemen edged East Marshall by a 9-8 score on June 20, suffered a 10-0 loss to PCM June 24, then split with South Central Calhoun June 25, winning by a 4-3 score and losing by 5-4. North Polk, a team that finished ranked seventh in 3A, swept Roland-Story by 3-0 and 7-2 scores to close out June and on July 1, Roland-Story suffered 12-5 and 10-6 setbacks to a Van Meter team that ended up ranked fifth in 2A.
Roland-Story came back to sweep North Tama in its final games before July 4, prevailing by scores of 8-4 and 6-0. In its first game after the holiday, Roland-Story was dealt a 14-4 loss by a Dike-New Hartford team ranked third in 2A, and Woodward-Granger handed the Norsemen a 10-0 loss the following day.
Things began to turn around for Roland-Story in a doubleheader against a Treynor team ranked sixth in 2A. The Norsemen split with the Cardinals, winning 4-1 and losing 9-1. The next day, the Norsemen pounded Gladbrook-Reinbeck, 10-1, to close out the regular season.
The momentum from the Treynor and Gladbrook-Reinbeck games carried over into the 2A district quarterfinals on July 13. Roland-Story whipped Eagle Grove, 9-2.
Three days later, Roland-Story avenged its two losses to South Hamilton by defeating the Hawks in the district semifinals at Dike, 8-4. That set up a rematch with Dike-New Hartford for the district title on July 20.
The Norsemen picked the perfect time to play their best game of the season. They stunned the Wolverines on their own home field, 7-5, to win the district championship.
“Watching a group of young men accomplish something together, that even they were shocked they could accomplish,” Hill said. “Baseball is a great game, one in which bigger, faster, stronger, doesn’t always win. It’s a game where being routine can make you competitive. It’s a game that can bombard you with failure, but you have to press on with your belief. When a group of guys can buy into the same belief, that can be a scary team.”
The victory pitted Roland-Story against Des Moines Christian for the right to go to state. The Norsemen played tough early, but struggled down the stretch in an 8-0 substate loss.
It was painful for the Roland-Story players to see their season end just one game short of state. But it didn’t take away from what they did to get that far.
“This group believed in each other and bought into each other,” Hill said. “They weren’t a group of all-district players. Just a group that grew and came together at the end and played hard. They turned themselves from a rebuilding team into district champions. As a coach, I don’t know if you get provided with much more joy than that.”
Roland-Story scored 190 during the season, hitting .248 as a team with 164 walks and a .377 on-base percentage. The Norsemen hit 52 doubles, four triples and three home runs and they stole 85 bases in 86 attempts.
In the field, Roland-Story made 746 putouts and 266 assists against 82 errors in 1,094 chances. The Norsemen recorded a team fielding average of .925.
“Getting guys comfortable in their roles was a major challenge,” Hill said. “We had new guys at every position this year. Some guys were pushed into varsity roles when they could have benefited from a year of JV. But, they all stepped up without hesitation and wanted to battle for their team. It just took time to get situated.”
Nick Stole, Jon Sansgaard and Aaron Seydell were the three seniors to stick with the team all season.
“I can’t thank our three seniors enough,” Hill said. “Every one of them brought something to the table that our guys can learn from. “They stuck with this and not only left a quality mark on the program, but improved it.”
Stole hit .347 with a .406 OBP, .496 slugging average, 10 doubles, one triple, two home runs, 25 runs and 24 RBIs as the team’s designated hitter. Sansgaard posted a .419 OBP with 20 walks, four doubles, one triple, 12 runs, 17 RBIs and 14 steals and he made 131 putouts with two assists, spending most of his time in the field at first base.
Seydell recorded a .404 OBP with 25 walks, seven doubles, one triple, 27 runs, 16 RBIs and seven steals. He had 28 putouts and nine assists on defense.
“Roland-Story baseball has been around for 50 years now and Aaron, Jon, and Nick helped accomplish something that has only been done five times in that stretch,” Hill said. “To make one of those marks in 2019 — we don’t accomplish that without them. I’m very proud of how they have ended their time at Roland-Story. They are great examples of what it means to be committed to Roland-Story.”
Junior infielder Jayden Macdonald, sophomores Nolan Faber, Zach Twedt, Zach Magnuson, Ajay Twedt and Steven Berends and freshman catcher Matt Phelan all were productive as underclassmen for Roland-Story.
Macdonald hit .271 with six doubles, 15 walks, 16 runs and 28 RBIs. He made 158 putouts and 25 assists in the field.
Faber posted a team-high .357 average with a .445 OBP, .461 slugging average, 20 walks, 12 doubles, 11 steals, 31 runs and 12 RBIs. He tallied 74 assists and 41 putouts in the field.
Zach Twedt delivered a .241 average, .348 OBP, 14 walks, four doubles, one triple, 21 runs, 18 RBIs and a team-best 24 steals in 27 attempts. He had 51 putouts and 11 assists against five errors in the field.
Magnuson hit .219 with a .342 OBP, 15 walks, eight steals, five doubles, one home run, 18 runs and 12 RBIs. He finished with 47 assists and 36 putouts on defense.
Ajay Twedt came through with a .325 OBP, 20 walks, eight steals, three doubles and 20 runs. He recorded 37 putouts and seven assists with one one error in the field.
Berends produced a .313 OBP with 17 walks, four steals, 11 runs and seven RBIs. He came through with 69 assists and 30 putouts in the field.
Phelan had 229 putouts and 20 assists and threw out 11 runners from behind the plate. He also walked seven times and had one double with four runs scored in limited time at the plate.
The Roland-Story pitching staff gave up 222 total runs with a staff earned-run average of 4.27 with 231 strikeouts and 108 walks in 247 ⅔ innings.
Berends, Zach Twedt, Ajay Twedt and Faber logged the most innings for the Norsemen.
Berends went 5-6 with a 3.63 ERA, 55 strikeouts and 21 walks in 61 ⅔ innings. Zach Twedt ended up 6-4 with a 3.82 ERA, 64 strikeouts and 29 walks in 55 innings.
Ajay Twedt posted a 2-3 record with a 3.03 ERA, 33 strikeouts and just 10 walks in 39 ⅓ innings. Faber was 3-1 with a team-best 2.10 ERA, 37 strikeouts and only five walks in 36 ⅔ innings.
Seydell ended up 1-1 with a 6.11 ERA in 18 ⅓ innings and Macdonald was 2-1 with a 7.67 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 17 ⅓ innings. Magnuson threw 14 innings and was 0-2 with 14 strikeouts and Sansgaard and freshman Alex Berends each tossed 2 2 ⅔ innings.
Next season, Roland-Story has the potential to make another strong run late in the season. But Hill wants to see more consistency.
“Personally, I’m OK on the ups of the coaster, but the fast downs get me,” Hill said. “ I don’t have much of a stomach for those anymore. So the guys will have to make sure they do what they can to not have many steep drops on next year’s ride.”