By SCOTT JACKSON Courier sports writer
---- — OTTUMWA – High school baseball teams in the state of Iowa know each and every summer to expect all kinds of different weather on any given day.
Both Centerville and Ottumwa had already experienced the ever-changing Hawkeye State conditions once this season. Rainy weather had already forced the two teams to postpone their original meeting back in early June.
So on Saturday, as they both arrived at Legion Memorial Field for their make-up date, the Big Reds and Bulldogs were hoping for sunny skies to greet them. And for parts of the day, that wish came true.
Then came the parts where dark clouds rolled in. And with it, periodic rain that only got heavy every periodic time it returned.
Finally, in the sixth inning, with Ottumwa ahead 5-2, both teams decided that one final downpour was one too many to wait around for. Even after putting two runners on and bringing the tying run to home plate, Centerville and head coach Bill Huisman agreed to end the game early and provide the Bulldogs with a five-inning victory.
“Maybe we should have waited a little longer to come over. We could have had the whole game rained out,” Huisman joked after the loss for his team. “It was just the timing of the whole deal, but it was a nice game and well played for as long as it was played.”
The final shower brought an end to a very strange day for the Bulldogs and head coach John Jaeger, who experienced even more of it having to arrive at Legion Field earlier in the day to prepare the facilities for the JV/varsity twinbill. As Ottumwa players started to arrive, so did the first clouds and showers of the day.
“When I first got here at 9:45 a.m., it was sunny out. I wasn’t even thinking about rain becoming a factor,” Jaeger said. “We started getting the field ready with the rest of the players and the clouds starting rolling in. We had to put the tarp on a couple of different times and we had to delay the JV game because of the rain. In the end, I think we were fortunate to get at least five innings of baseball in.”
Junior Cooper Smith was certainly happy to see the game become official as it reached the fifth inning. Smith earned his first official pitching decision of the season, winning in his third start with five solid innings of work on the mound for the Bulldogs Saturday.
Smith earned no-decisions after pitching into a 10th inning of a scoreless tie with Waukee, forcing Ottumwa to forfeit a high-quality start. Smith also pitched well into the seventh against Marshalltown eight nights earlier, but late-inning errors allowed the Bobcats to rally for a lead before the Bulldogs rallied themselves in the bottom of the seventh after Smith had been pulled for Collin Schulz.
“Tight decisions can sometimes come back to bite you,” Smith said after allowing just one earned run on five hits while striking out four batters and walking none. “It just feels good to come back and finally get that first win, but if it wasn’t for the defense and hitting of our team it wouldn’t have happened for me.”
“Ever since (the second game) against Ankeny, he’s really pitched well for us,” Jaeger said of Smith. “You’re going to give up hits. It’s just a matter of how many hits and how many they can string together. If you don’t allow them to get hit after hit after hit, you’re not going to get hurt as much by that.”
Smith came up big with a pair of his own hits, helping his own cause by putting Ottumwa on top in the third inning with a two-out infield RBI single. It was part of a successful strategy for the Bulldogs of using their speed to counter the Centerville’s starting pitcher Levi Sebolt and his devastating curveball.
“It’s something we work on daily and if team’s aren’t going to defend it, we can make it tough on them,” Jaeger said. “Centerville’s always going to be tough. They’re a team that’s coached by someone that’s been teaching the game for a number of years and knows how to teach the game the right way.”
Huisman talked about Sebolt, who six batters in the contest before leaving in the fifth inning after giving up two unearned runs as a throwing error and a Collin Schulz RBI single helped put Ottumwa up 3-2 in the fourth.
“Levi’s had a nice year for us. He’s doing a good job,” Huisman said. “Most of the time, his curveball is pretty darn good. When that’s on, he’s pretty tough to beat.”
Centerville (15-12) will return to rigors of a tough race to the finish in the South Central Conference this week. The Big Reds will play a doubleheader at Davis County tonight while EBF and No. 8 (3A) Chariton play each other as Centerville starts the day three games behind the Chargers for first in the SCC and game behind the Rockets.
“It was a little more relaxing coming over here to Ottumwa, but it’s all about competition at this time of the year,” Huisman said. “This is a heck of week coming up. It hasn’t let up all year. We should be tournament tested by the time the postseason arrives.”
Ottumwa, meanwhile, returned to the final week of substate seeding for a CIML Metro Conference road doubleheader at Des Moines Hoover Monday as the Courier went to press. The Bulldogs (13-12) will return home for two more Metro games Wednesday against Indianola, the last two before the substate matchups will be determined.
“This was a good win for us. We need this win going down the stretch to be able to get the seed (in substate play) that we’re working toward,” Jaeger said.
Ottumwa 5, Centerville 2
Centerville 000 20 — 2 5 3
Ottumwa 001 22 — 5 8 1
Centerville battery — Levi Sebolt (L, 4-1) (4 1/3IP, 7H, 5R, 6K, 2BB) and Jared Armington (2/3IP, H, K), Michael Firkins catching.
2B — Firkins, Sebolt.
Hits — Sebolt 2-3, Armington 1-2, Firkins 1-2, Kolton Gonnerman 1-2.
RBI — Firkins.
Runs — Tommy Mattly, Michael Starcevich.
Ottumwa battery — Cooper Smith (W, 1-0) (5IP, 0H, 0R, 0ER, 0K, 0BB), Seth Staton catching.
2B — Collin Schulz, Smith.
Hits — Seth Griffiths 2-3, Schulz 2-3, Smith 2-3, Spencer Fuller 1-2, Tyler Johns 1-2.
RBI — Schulz, Smith.
Runs — Johns 2, Fuller, Mitch Stuchel, Bryce Ward.