By SCOTT JACKSON Courier sports writer
---- — DES MOINES – It’s the tough part of baseball.
No matter how well you play for most of the day. No matter how well things seem to be going. No matter how assured victory appears to be even as the innings and outs tick off the board.
Until that last out is recorded, it can all go away in the blink of an eye.
The Chariton Chargers were reminded of this harsh lesson in a cruel way, by having the program’s first-ever state tournament win snatched away in the final inning by the second-ranked Clear Lake Lions. Down to their final out, and apparently on the way out of the way Class 3A State Baseball Tournament, the Lions roared back in a big way with the only two extra base hits of the night.
A double by Brock Adams, a walk to Mitch Keeran and a bases-clearing triple to right by Brandon Tofte turned apparent victory by Chariton into instant celebration for Clear Lake. The walk-off 5-4 victory gave the Lions the date with Harlan in Friday afternoon’s 3A semifinals and left Chariton wondering about what might have been.
“It’s not a surprise to me that we were in that position. We had a good team that won 35 games this year,” senior Token Hall said after having his Charger career ended in a stunning way in Des Moines on Tuesday. “In my mind, I still think we were the better team. They just happened to catch a break right there at the end.”
That break wasn’t readily apparent as the Chargers appeared for most of the day to be good enough to win a game at the state baseball tournament despite being down a regular starter. Chariton took the field in Des Moines without junior outfielder Ben Kinser, who was injured just 24 hours before Tuesday night’s contest.
That left head coach Jake Schroeder having to shake up the lineup, slightly, by putting Austin Ritenour out into the extra spacious outfield of Principal Park. After spending the first six innings patrolling left, Ritenour moved over to right after Schroeder made the call to bring Jordan Baughman in to close out the win on the mound.
Four batters later, Brandon Tofte lifted a liner that just got over Ritenour’s head with the bases loaded and Chariton clinging to a 4-2 lead. The recovery and strong relay throws to home plate gave Charger catcher Alex Wright a chance to force extra innings by tagging out Keeran with the winning run, but the Clear Lake sophomore clean-up hitter hit home plate just before being tagged to clinch to amazing comeback.
“It was just a combination of things that went against us in that situation,” Schroeder said. “Not having Ben hurt us because you’re asking Austin to play the outfield, then you ask him to play right which he hasn’t played all year for us. Having to play right as well at a place like Principal Park, which has so much room behind you, is tough for anyone to adjust to.”
“It was a mental mistake, but I know Austin. He’ll be back next season. He’ll work hard to get us back here next year,” Hall added.
Hall, unfortunately, will not get that chance as he and three senior teammates played their final games in Charger red and gray Tuesday night on the home field of the Iowa Cubs. Baughman, Wright and Austin Peterson were among the top five run producers in Class 3A this summer, helping lead Chariton baseball to one of the program’s overall most successful seasons ever as the Chargers went 35-6, won the outright South Central Conference title and made the program’s second ever trip to the state baseball tournament.
“It won’t surprise me to see them back here next year,” Hall said. “They’ve got plenty of talent back. It’s just a matter of them working hard enough to make it back here.”
That will ultimately be what makes this season stand the true test of time when determining how successful it was. With long-standing programs like Harlan, Dallas Center-Grimes, Davenport Assumption and Boone also a part of this year’s 3A State Baseball Tournament, Chariton would love to believe this year was just the beginning of putting their program right on that same level.
“I would love to see us someday mentioned with those teams and think that we were part of the season that really got things started at Chariton,” Peterson said. “To be part of that first team that started those sustained years of winning would be what I would remember most about this season.
“Sure, this game stings right now, but I’ll remember all the success we had together as a team this year before I remember just how one game turned out.”
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