By SCOTT JACKSON
Courier sports writer
---- — OTTUMWA – Less than 48 hours ago, they were down to their final strike.
Now, they’re on their way to Des Moines.
Seventh-ranked Chariton, who found themselves fighting to keep their baseball season going on Monday night in Centerville in the Class 3A, District 7 finals, is headed to the 3A State Baseball Tournament for the third time in program history. The Chargers parlayed a come-from-behind 10-inning win over the Big Reds to earn the district title late Monday night into a Substate 4 championship Wednesday in Ottumwa as Alex Wright made things uncomfortable at the plate for Fort Madison hitters, and even more uncomfortable for those that were fortunate enough to make on base.
“It’s something I work really hard on,” Wright said of his pick-off move. “It’s a big momentum boost, so you might as well go with it.”
Wright ran his record to 7-0 on the mound, taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning while striking out six batters and picking off three base runners. It all helped Chariton’s early four-run rally hold up as the Chargers held off a late push by the Bloodhounds to earn a 4-2 victory at Legion Memorial Field.
“I’m just so proud of these guys,” Chariton head coach Jake Schroeder said while choking back tears on the field moments after the game. “Alex just pitched so good tonight, he put me at ease. I didn’t have too many worries.”
Wright helped put a charge into the Chariton faithful early on, completing a two-out first-inning rally with an RBI single to right center that brought in a pair of runs. The Chargers carried that momentum right over to the second inning, scoring two more runs on four more hits off Fort Madison’s ace senior pitcher Collin Eaves.
“It was a great overall team performance,” Schroeder said. “Eaves is great overall pitcher, and the way we came out hitting him is just amazing.”
Wright, meanwhile, didn’t allow Fort Madison (18-24) to get a rally together until the fifth. Most of that came to keep Bloodhound hitters from reaching base, which only came thanks to six walks, a hit batter and three hits in the sixth inning as Fort Madison tried to rally late from a 4-0 deficit.
Any other Bloodhound rallies, however, were stalled by Wright’s ability to pick off base runners. After picking off two Keokuk base runners in a five-hit shutout in his last postseason start, Wright picked off three more Fort Madison runners, including John Nagel twice and Mile Wentzein in the sixth to stall a two-run rally for the Bloodhounds.
“That last one really provided us with a big lift,” Wright said. “There was a hole starting to develop in the mound. That was starting to come into my mind and it might have been hurting me on the mound. Being able to get that extra out right there helped a lot.”
No. 7 Chariton will take a 35-5 overall record to Principal Park in Des Moines to play in the 3A State Baseball quarterfinals on Tuesday. The Chargers were still awaiting complete results from all the 3A substate baseball games around the state as the Courier went to press on Tuesday.
“I don’t panic with this team. They’re resilient. They’re going to find ways to win,” Schroeder said. “It doesn’t matter how you get there. All that matters is that you get there, and that’s our goal.”