Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
CARROLL — Maybe it was destiny. Maybe it was just pure heart, soul and grit.
Either way, New London (31-1) showed it on Friday at Merchants Park as the Tigers captured the programs first state baseball championship with a thrilling 8-7 victory over unblemished No. 1-seeded Remsen St. Mary’s (35-1).
A team that fell in last years quarterfinal round and lost just one senior from last years state tournament team climbed the mountain and gained Class 1A supremacy.
“I’m just so proud of the kids,” New London head coach Brad Helmerson said. “That’s the toughest bunch of kids you’ll ever coach. They don’t give up and their always there in the end. I’d never bet against them.”
You couldn’t ask much more from championship final.
After a hot start from the Hawks, New London clawed its way back on top before the championship came down to the final at-bat.
After holding a commanding 8-4 lead, the Tigers advantage began to slip away as the Hawks found themselves within one, 8-7, in the bottom of the seventh with the bases loaded.
Following a walk, error and intentional walk Remsen had them loaded with just one out. New London’s back was against the wall, but they didn’t waver.
After the Hawks tried converting a squeeze bunt, which went foul, New London closer Kooper Schulte had the Hawk’s Alex Schroeder right where he wanted him.
“I just knew I needed to lock in,” Schulte said. “I threw strikes and got out of the inning. Then I got the perfect ball for the double play. Couldn’t ask for a better time, the moment was perfect.”
With an 0-2 count and a state title on the line, Schroeder sent a dribbler right back to Schulte, who threw the ball back to catcher Tucker Gibbar for the force out, who then gunned the ball to Carter Allen at first for the 1-2-3 double-play, sealing the state title.
“I was just praying in that moment that they don’t hit it in the gap,” Seth Bailey said. “If they hit the gap it’s game over and their walking away with a walk off state championship.”
New London was usually the team that jumped on opponents early, but this time around it was Remsen who had the hot hand.
St. Mary’s was blistering with the bats to start, jumping out to 3-0 lead in the first inning off New London’s Dereck Santiago. Carter Schorg hit a lead off triple, followed by a Jaxon Bunkers double, then another triple this time by Cael Ortmann. A past ball then made it 3-0.
But New London was use to scoring in troves. Between the Tigers first two tournament games they outscored their opponents 28-4 — beginning with a 12-3 victory over CAM, Anita in the quarterfinals and following up with a 16-1 win over Newman Catholic in Wednesday’s semifinals.
“There gonna bring it,” Helmerson said. “All of our kids are gonna bring it every at-bat.”
It was Tucker Gibbar who gave the Tigers the spark they needed. Gibbar led off the second inning and blasted a solo home run over the left center wall to make it 3-1.
“At that first at bat, I was looking for an inside pitch,” Gibbar said. “I assumed they throw it inside and I was right. I rounded first and I thought they caught it then I saw them waving their arms. It’s still just so surreal.”
For the next four inning’s it was all New London as Santiago began to dial in and the bats came alive.
“My goal was to just throw strikes,” Santiago said. “They have a bat and we have a glove. I trusted the team and the defense behind me.”
After a pair of walks and a groundout, Brendan Richey brought another run in on a sac fly.
Remsen would score once more in the bottom of the second to make it 4-2, but the Tigers tied it off a Santiago hit and error by the center field, followed by a sac fly by Camden Kasel.
New London’s biggest inning came in the fourth, as they brought nine total batters to the plate for a total of four runs, latching onto an 8-4 lead.
An inning later, the Tigers made on of the biggest plays of the game.
With runners on first and second Ryan Richey fielded a ground-ball and got the force out at third, but a errant throw to first got past Allen giving the Hawks a chance at a run.
Allen ran the ball down and launched it home to Gibber who was able to lay down a tag for one of the biggest outs of the game.
“In my mind I was thinking, this is a game changing play,” Allen said. “I gotta get it to home. I just executed, like we did all year and it paid off.”
The Hawks had not allowed eight runs in a single game all season long and had allowed just three in each of their six postseason games entering the championship.
It wasn’t over yet though as the Hawks would make a run of their own.
In the sixth with New London closer Schulte on the hill, who haden’t given up a run all season long, the Hawks started to rally.
Remsen scored three runs off a sac fly, RBI double and RBI single to come within one 8-7.
“We’ve been through so many situations together,” Ryan Richey said. “There was never any doubt. We’ve been talking about this for years. We got a process to win and it worked.”
After a quick top of the seventh for New London, Remsen came into its half of the inning with the top of the order, but the Tigers were able to hold off the Hawks with the 1-2-3 double play for the state title.
“I always say this is not a only a team, this is a family,” Josh Catala said. “That’s why we play really good baseball. Everybody is on the same page. Everybody is pushing each other. We are family.”
Along with his solo home run, Gibbar finished 1-2 with a pair of RBIs in the win. Carter Allen also had two RBIs and scored one as well. Brendan Richey went 2-3 with two RBIs. Catala ended with two hits. Schulte and Kasel also ended with a hit as well.
After hunkering in, Santiago finished allowing just three runs on six hits and five strikeouts in his five innings.
Santiago was named the Casey’s Player of the Game for his performance.
Schulte closed allowing three runs on three hits and two walks. He also struck out one. Schulte was named the Lane’s Hardest Working Player.
The Tiger will graduate nine senior from the championship squad.
“It’s been great,” Camden Kasel said. “Everyone gets along and even this whole week has been memorable. It’s a great group of guys that are more than willing to put in work to get the job done. I’m just extremely thankful I was given the opportunity.”
The win not only caps off the legacy of a stellar senior squad, it also marks the closing of a chapter for coaches Brad Helmerson and Justin Schulte.
The two have been integral in the development of New London baseball for a plethora of years.
The duo go out on top.