Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
CARROLL - On the morning of July 1, the New London baseball team woke up with an 18-0 record. They were on top of the world, with full control of the Southeast Iowa Super Conference and a sure No. 1 seed awaiting them in the upcoming substate tournament.
That night, the Tigers didn’t score a single run.
It was a rare blemish for the Tigers, who are now 26-1 heading into the Class 1A state baseball tournament. West Burlington came into New London and avenged a 16-0 clubbing by New London earlier in the season.
“I think we got a little too comfortable with our position,” said junior Carter Allen. “You’re not supposed to get comfortable. You’re supposed to come hungry.”
The Tigers have been hungry ever since. They bounced back with a dominant 15-3 five-inning win over a good Anamosa squad, and they have been winning ever since, taking their last eight to earn the school’s second-ever state tournament berth. The only other came in 2006.
New London is junior led. Their top six hitters are all juniors, as are seven of the nine batters in the starting lineup.
The last batter on that list, third-baseman Ryan Richey, has been the hottest of them all this postseason.
Richey is ninth of nine in batting average, hitting .319 so far this season, but he has delivered in huge spots for the Tigers in their last two games, going 2-for-3 with an RBI triple and a bunt single in the Tigers’ 4-3 substate semifinal win over Sigourney, as well as a score-opening solo home run in their 4-2 substate final win against Mount Ayr.
“It’s been there all along,” said New London head coach Brad Helmerson. “He’s just got to believe.”
And with the bottom of the New London order delivering like that, it’s not hard to see why the Tigers have been hard to beat. All nine of the batters in New London’s order have an average over .300 and three hit over .400.
And those offensive numbers aren’t against soft competition. The Tigers have made sure to stack the schedule with tough teams, including No. 6 Don Bosco, who the Tigers led 10-2 before rain canceled the game.
“Games like that are what prepares us,” said Helmerson after the blowout win over Anamosa.
And whether it’s the Don Bosco’s of the world or just everyday live in the Super Conference, the Tigers never seem to give up many runs. The most New London has surrendered was seven, in an 8-7 win against Danville on June 21. Since then, they haven’t given up anymore than four.
In the two closest games New London has played this postseason, they’ve needed just four pitchers. Josh Catala (0.81 ERA) and Hecniel Rodriguez (1.58 ERA) have both went deep in their starts and Kooper Schulte (0.00 ERA) and Seth Bailey (2.82) ERA have been dominant in relief.
This is all to say, the Tigers have what it takes.
“We’ve worked our butts off this year, every day,” said Schulte after the Tigers’ substate victory last week. “We deserve this.”
And though the one-loss Tigers were seeded surprisingly low, getting the No. 5 seed, the championship seems to be up for grabs. The top two ranked teams in Class 1A are out, leaving No. 3 Remsen St. Mary’s as the favorites. Just four of the teams left in the eight-team field were ranked in the Top-10, including the seventh-ranked Tigers.
New London will take on fourth-seeded Kee Lansing in the 1:30 p.m. game on Monday at Merchants Park. Before that, top-seeded St. Mary’s hosts Grundy Center in the No. 1 vs. No. 8 game. Fourth-ranked and second-seeded St. Albert with take on Lisbon in the third game of the day, and No. 10 Tri-Center will play Alburnett in the nightcap.
When the tournament ends on Thursday, only one team will stand with the championship trophy. If it is New London, it will be the school’s first state baseball championship in Tiger history.