The difference between Colfax-Mingo’s conference-winning championship season in 2018 and a middle-of-the-pack finish in 2019 came at the plate, according to head coach Brian Warrick.
Two Tigerhawks hit .400 or better and two others were better than .386 in 2018. Last year, the top two hitters batted .371 and .357.
“We have to be better and more consistent with our hitting,” said Warrick, who begins his third season as head coach. “We have to improve there. We only had three guys hit over .300 last year. We need some of our guys to hit over .400. That’s what we did the year before. We need to get on base more, too.”
Last year’s Tigerhawk team finished 9-13 overall and 7-9 in South Iowa Cedar League action. Only two seniors from that team graduated but Warrick said junior Jake Nichols will miss the entire season after having foot surgery in May.
That puts a little more pressure on the senior duo of Trystin Ross and Brady Berkey, who are the top returning hitters and pitchers from last season.
Ross is back as the team’s ace on the mound. He pitched in 13 games and made seven starts last year, finishing 2-2 with an earned run average of 2.75. He struck out 73 and walked 24 in 51 innings.
At the plate, Ross batted .357 with 12 runs, eight doubles, 17 RBIs and 15 walks. He got on base 51 percent of the time.
Ross was a second team all-conference infielder last season.
Berkey led the offense last year with a .371 average. He had 11 runs, six doubles, 12 RBIs, eight walks and reached base 45 percent of the time.
On the mound, Berkey made eight starts and tossed nearly 33 innings. His ERA was 7.07 and he struck out 35 batters while walking 25.
Berkey was an honorable mention all-conference player last summer.
Warrick said he expects Ross, Berkey and sophomore Cole Bracewell to handle the pitching starts in conference games. Bracewell also ranked fourth in hitting on the team a year ago.
Bracewell will play centerfield when he’s not pitching. Last year, he batted .305 with 11 runs, four doubles, eight RBIs, 11 walks and he reached base 41 percent of the time.
On the mound, Bracewell pitched in three games and had an ERA of 3.11 in nine innings. He struck out 14 and walked three.
The Tigerhawks do have plenty of experience back. Ross, Bracewell and junior Zach Steenhoek started all 21 games, while Berkey and seniors Hunter Green and Wyatt Gull all made 19 starts. Sophomore Colton Lind started 11 games.
“We lost Zarek and he will be tough to replace,” Warrick said. “But I like the experience we have back. Hopefully guys will step up and make us stronger.”
Besides Ross, Berkey and Bracewell, Warrick said senior Dylan Zook, freshman Nate Jones, eighth-grader Cael Bracewell and Green all are expected to see time on the mound.
Battling for varsity playing time in the outfield will be Cole Bracewell, Green, Lind, Jones and freshman Carter Gibson.
Green also can play third base and the rest of the varsity infielders are Ross, Berkey, Gull, Zook, Cael Bracewell, freshman Nathan Sloan and eighth-grader Joe Earles.
The competition at catcher is down to Steenhoek and Green.
Steenhoek batted .276 last year with 15 runs, seven RBIs, five steals and a team-high 17 walks. He got on base 45 percent of the time, earning honorable mention all-conference recognition.
Green hit .254 with 15 runs, two doubles, 12 RBIs, nine walks and four steals. He got on base 39 percent of the time.
Gull and Lind combined for eight RBIs and seven runs. Gull walked seven times.
The COVID-19 pandemic almost put an end to summer sports like it did spring sports. But practices began June 1. There will be plenty of restrictions, guidelines and even distractions this summer though.
“Our school district had our kids sign a couple of release forms,” Warrick said. “Cleaning things will be hassle, but this is a very positive team. They joke about the rules but don’t complain about them.”
Warrick’s practices in the past have involved breaking up into small groups so that part of the restrictions hasn’t be an issue. He thinks the biggest challenges this summer will be on game days and forcing fans to sit further a part than they would like.
“I also love sunflower seeds,” Warrick joked. “We can’t do that this summer so I have been getting my fix at home before I come to practice.”
Every team will play each other once in the SICL this summer. There will be no division champs, but there will be one conference champion.
“There are no guarantees and I won’t make any predictions, but I expect us to compete for the SICL title,” Warrick said.
The Tigerhawks are scheduled to play 14 games in 2020. They will play 11 SICL contests and non-conference games against Baxter, Colo-NESCO and Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont.