Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
OSKALOOSA — The New London baseball team walked on to the baseball field with a mission on Tuesday night. They walked off with a state banner.
The seventh-ranked Tigers knocked off Mount Ayr 4-2 to win the Class 1A Substate 5 championship.
“It's exactly what we've worked for all year long,” said New London head coach Brad Helmerson. “Those kids played big.”
The game was scoreless until the bottom of the second, when Tiger third-baseman Ryan Richey delivered the biggest hit of the game, a two-out solo homer to left-center field.
“I just knew I got a good piece of it,” said Richey, who hammered the first pitch he saw. “ Once I saw it go, I was like 'no way I just did that.'”
Mount Ayr struck back in the top of the third inning when Adler Shay stepped up with one out and knocked in Jaixen Frost on an RBI groundout. The Tigers, however, were ready to strike right back in the bottom half of the inning.
With two outs and a runner in scoring position, New London catcher Tucker Gibbar stepped to the plate and knocked one in when his hard grounder slipped under the Mount Ayr shortstop’s legs. That brought home Josh Catala to make it 2-1 after three innings.
“I knew we were going to get it,” said an elated Gibbar after the game. “I just knew we were going to go to state.”
Hecniel Rodriguez was strong on the mound for New London. Rodriguez started the game and held the Raiders to one run through the first five innings.
“It was a great challenge,” Rodriguez said. “The whole lineup was hard.”
Rodriguez helped himself in the bottom of the fifth inning. With one out and runners on first and second, he sent a fly ball into center field. Catala tagged up from third base to score his second run of the ballgame, and it was 3-1 Tigers with two innings to go.
New London found itself in some mud in the top of the sixth frame. Mount Ayr put the first two batters on via singles, chasing Rodriguez and bringing in relief pitcher Kooper Schulte to try and get the final six outs for New London.
“I knew for us to win this game, we needed to get out of that inning,” Schulte said.
Schulte forced three-straight Raider groundouts, and although one of those brought in a run, he kept New London in front, 3-2.
With the score tightening, the Tiger offense pushed through one more run. This time it was Catala at the plate with two outs, and the Tiger junior hit one hard through the left side to bring in Richey and make it 4-2.
“I was locked in,” Catala said. “I just did my job.”
But the Tigers weren’t out of the water yet. Mount Ayr had the top of the order due up in the seventh, meaning Frost, the state’s leading hitter in all classes, would be leading things off.
Frost came into Tuesday night’s game with a .632 batting average, and had reached all three times with two singles and a walk, but Schulte forced a ground out to second baseman Michael Raines, who tossed it over to Carter Allen at first base for a big out.
“If they get him leading the inning off with a base runner, everything changes,” Helmerson said. “Keeping him off was huge.”
Schulte forced a soft ground out back to himself for the second out of the inning, and then struck out the final batter on a full count to clinch the victory and send New London to state.
The strike out ignited a wild celebration. Schulte and catcher Tucker Gibbar leapt into each others arms in a celebratory hug and then the rest of the team piled on top of them.
“I just remember being on the bottom of the dog pile,” Schulte said. “I could barely breathe, but it's worth it.”
Schulte didn’t give up a hit in two innings of relief. Rodriguez earned the win, giving up two earned runs on five hits and four walks, while striking out four.
The Tiger offense had 10 hits on the day. Ryan Richey’s home run was the only extra-base hit. Catala, Schulte, Camden Kasel, Brendan Richey and Seth Bailey all had singles.
Catala filled the offensive stat sheet even with just one hit in the score book. He was 1-for-1 with three walks, two runs scored and an RBI.
“They’re my family,” Catala said as teammates continued the celebration after the game. “They’re not only my team. They’re my brothers.”
Briar Knapp took the loss on the mound for Mount Ayr. Dawson Swank came in to relieve him in the sixth inning.
Along with the Tigers, seven other Class 1A teams punched their tickets to state on Tuesday. Other qualifiers were No. 3 Remsen St. Mary’s, No. 4 Council Bluffs St. Albert, No. 10 Tri-Center, Grundy Center, Kee, Lisbon and Alburnett.
The Tigers will be the No. 5 seed in the Class 1A tournament, which begins on Monday. They will take on fourth-seeded Kee, Lansing in the quarterfinals, at 1:30 p.m., and the winner will play either top-seeded Remsen, St. Mary’s or eighth-seeded Grundy Center in the semifinals.
“We just have to come ready to play every day,” Gibbar said. “When we come to play like this, I don't think anybody can beat us.”