Washington Evening Journal
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Washington, IA 52353
CARROLL — Monday’s Class 1A state baseball quarterfinal between New London and Kee was a lot of things. It was intense. It was close, and it was controversial. But what it may also have been, was a prelude to the 2022 campaign.
The Tigers and Kee Hawks battled to the end. New London led first, Kee came back to eventually take a 4-1 advantage and the Tigers staged a thrilling comeback, cutting the Kee Hawks’ lead to 4-3 with one out and nobody out before Kee reliever Dalton Dibert was able to escape with the save.
Every inning was a nail-biter. Rare were 1-2-3 frames or quick outs. The bases were almost always occupied, leading to nine stranded New London runners, and seven stranded for the Kee Hawks.
With a state tournament game as competitive as Monday’s dogfight between the fourth and fifth seeded teams in the class, one may be surprised to look at the two rosters and see that one thing was lacking — senior players on the field.
Both New London and Kee made the state tournament despite having just one senior. New London will lose starting pitcher Hecniel Rodriguez, while Kee will be without the services of right fielder Chris Wagner next season.
Rodriguez was just a one-year player at New London. The Puerto Rico native moved in this year, and he’ll be missed after being one of New London’s top pitchers and hitting in the No. 3 spot.
“He’s been a huge success,” said New London head coach Brad Helmerson. “It’s a great pleasure to have him participate this year with us.”
Along with leading the team in wins, with six victories on the pitcher’s mound, Rodriguez led the team with seven triples, five home runs and 38 RBIs this season.
“He has brought a ton of energy, and he’s a great competitor out there,” said teammate Carter Allen. “Without him, we might not have made it this far. He’s a great person on and off the field.”
Allen is one of nine juniors on the Tigers’ roster, seven of whom are starters. Josh Catala, Tucker Gibbar, Camden Kasel, Carter Allen, Kooper Schulte, Seth Bailey and Ryan Richey were all state tournament starters. Bowen Glaha and Drew Benz each made a handful of starts during the regular season.
Kee has nine juniors on the team. Eight of those started Monday’s Class 1A quarterfinal.
The only other Class 1A state tournament teams that can match up with the youth of New London and Kee is are seventh-seeded Lisbon and eighth-seeded Grundy Center. Neither team had a senior on the field Monday.
Grundy Center had a rough time in the early game on Monday. Top-seeded Remsen-St. Mary’s scored a 14-0 blowout victory to move on to play Kee in the semifinals. No. 2 seed St. Albert took down seventh-seeded Lisbon 9-3. No. 7 seed Alburnett defeated No. 3 seed Ti-Center 8-6.
The other four teams in the Class 1A state tournament will have some major rebuilding to do. St. Mary’s started five seniors, including ace pitcher Blaine Harpenau, who has started 13 of the Hawks’ 27 wins. St. Albert starts five seniors. Tri-Center starts six, including ace pitcher Leyton Nelson, who is 10-0. Alburnett starts five, including their top-four hitters.
So with the rest of the top seeds in this year’s tournament losing the bulk of their talent, one would think New London will be right up there among the favorites for the crown this season. That’s a chance the Tigers don’t plan on taking for granted.
“It’s going to be great to have this experience,” Allen said. “We’re going to be calm, and we’re going to know what to come up here for.”
Without Rodriguez, Allen and the rest of the junior class will have to step up on the mound and at the plate but that shouldn’t be hard with the wealth of talent coming from the Class of 2022.
Catala will be the leading returner on the offense, finishing the season with a .462 batting average. He’ll be the top pitching arm coming back after a 4-1 record and a 0.81 ERA next season.
“ (The state tournament) was very cool,” Catala said after Monday’s game. “The experience is on another level.”
And if New London can make it back to Merchants Park in Carroll, or wherever the currently homeless 2022 state baseball tournament takes place, they very well could meet up with a familiar opponent.
New London vs. Kee Part 2? It could happen.