Washington Evening Journal
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Washington, IA 52353
CARROLL — Maybe it wasn’t meant to be.
After back-to-back thrilling substate tournament wins, No. 7 New London’s magical run ended at Merchants Park in Carroll on Monday. Fourth-seeded Kee capitalized on early breaks and held off a fierce Tiger rally to earn a 4-3 win in the Class 1A state baseball quarterfinals.
“I hate it for them for it to end like this,” said New London head coach Brad Helmerson. “The team that deserved to win that ballgame didn’t win that ballgame.”
Things looked to be flowing smoothly early on. The Tigers, playing their first tournament game as a road team, struck quickly when Tucker Gibbar lined a one-out triple to left field, scoring Kooper Schulte to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead.
In the bottom of the inning, Gibbar picked a Kee Hawk runner off to end the frame.
But after that, the Tigers seemed destined for disappointment. Every bounce, call and situation seemed to favor the Kee Hawks.
New London had a shot to really put the pressure on in the second inning. With two on and nobody out, Carter Allen blooped a ball into left, which fell out of the glove of a diving left fielder. Camden Kasel had to hold up on the fly ball and dashed to third base, but a bang-bang call at third went Kee’s way for a fielder’s choice out.
“When those things happen, we just put them out of our mind and keep going,” said Allen. “Seems like it didn’t work out 100 percent this time.”
Instead of bases loaded nobody out, the play resulted in the first out. Kee starting pitcher Tyson Cota got the next two outs and held the Tigers’ lead to 1-0.
That was the first sign of a momentum shift in favor of the Kee Hawks. Kee used that momentum to load the bases with nobody out in the bottom of the second. New London starter Hecniel Rodriguez didn’t allow a hit for the rest of the inning, but the Kee Hawks scored on an illegal pitch call, which moved a separate runner to third, one that scored on a two-out wild pitch to give the Kee Hawks a 2-1 lead.
Frustration from the New London dugout multiplied in the third frame.
With Kooper Schulte standing on first base with nobody out, Rodriguez laid down a bunt and scrambled to first. The throw escaped the Kee Hawks third baseman, who collided with Rodriguez in a chaotic play at first. When the dust settled, Schulte had scored and Rodriguez made it to third base, but the home plate umpire called him out for stepping out of the box during the bunt and sent Schulte back to first, and the Tigers didn’t score in the frame.
In the bottom of the third, with Kee Hawk runners on the corners and two outs, Rodriguez made a quick pickoff move to first, which caught the runner off guard for what would have been the third out of the inning. A balk was initially called, but then reversed, but the out was negated due to the ball being dead. Kee would score one more on a wild pitch and it was 3-1.
“There were a couple calls that really swung the game,” Helmerson said. “It took us a while to bounce back.”
Kee scored once more, capitalizing on a New London throwing error in the fourth. Tiger reliever Seth Bailey came in soon after, and shut the Kee Hawks down for the rest of the game, but the New London offense stranded runners in the fifth and sixth innings, and a frustrated Tiger team was down to its last at-bat.
With the hot Carroll sun beating down and Kee just three outs away from advancing, the top of the Tiger order made one final stand.
“The game doesn’t end till the last out,” said center fielder Josh Catala, who led off the seventh frame. “I still thought we could win this game.”
Catala jumped on a pitch from Kee reliever Dalton Dibert to send a leadoff double past third base. Schulte followed with an RBI double to the fence, and Rodriguez scored Schulte with a single through the right side.
In the blink of an eye, New London found itself down just one run, at 4-3, with a runner on first.
“Hats off to the kids,” Helmerson said. “We go to the top of the seventh, and we’re still fighting.”
Unfortunately for New London, the tying run never reached scoring position. Dibert settled in and got the next three outs, forcing a fielder’s choice by Gibbar, a fly out from Ryan Richey and a strikeout of Kasel to end the rally, the game and New London’s season.
“I knew the top of the order were great hitters,” Dibert said. “I couldn’t let that get to my head, and I just had to come back and pump the zone for the next people up.”
The Tigers finished the game with seven hits. Gibbar had a triple and an RBI. Schulte had a double and an RBI. Catala and Allen each finished with one double. Rodriguez had a single and an RBI. Both Kasel and Brenden Richey singled.
Kee will play top-seeded Remsen St. Mary’s in the Class 1A semifinals on Wednesday morning at 10 a.m.
New London finishes the year at 26-2, and will bring everyone back next year, except Rodriguez who finished his one year with the Tigers. After the game, the Puerto Rico native reflected on the state tournament experience.
“I feel proud,” Rodriguez said. “This was my dream since Day 1.”
For the rest of the Tigers, it’s a tough pill to swallow but some added motivation for next year. New London will have a lot of returning talent next season, including seven seniors.
“I set another goal for next year,” Catala said. “Come back next year and come harder.”