By SCOTT JACKSON Courier sports writer
---- — OTTUMWA — Ottumwa head baseball coach John Jaeger expected it to be close.
Sure, he was referencing where the Bulldogs stood in terms of positioning among the six teams in Class 4A, Substate 7 entering the week when final pairings would be released by the Iowa High School Athletic Association.
But frankly, in his first summer at the helm of Ottumwa baseball, Jaeger could have been referencing anything. He’s certainly come to expect it to be close whenever his Bulldogs have stepped on the field for action this season.
On Tuesday, the Bulldogs got the news that the narrow difference between hosting a postseason opener and traveling on Friday, July 19, did not go Ottumwa’s way as the Bulldogs garnered a No. 4 seed in their substate and trip to Des Moines Lincoln. On Wednesday, that narrow difference was on full display for Bulldog fans at Legion Memorial Field not once, but twice as the Ottumwa dropped back-to-back one-run, eight-inning decisions to Indianola 4-3 and 6-5.
“It seems like we’ve played seven or eight games now where we’ve had a lead late in the game and the game hasn’t come out our way,” Jaeger said. “To me, what it comes down to is making plays when you have the opportunity to and then also to create some of those breaks that you can get in a close game.”
A break or two on Wednesday could have been the difference in Ottumwa picking up two CIML Metro Conference wins. Then again, a break or two this season could have been the difference in the Bulldogs getting to play postseason baseball at Legion Field.
“Those breaks are made by us. It’s not the other teams that are doing it. It was in our hands and we just didn’t come through when we needed to in order to get that home field advantage,” Jaeger said.
In a microcosm of what has plagued the Bulldogs at times this season, Indianola seemed to find a way to make every break go against Ottumwa when both games were on the line. The Bulldogs never trailed in regulation in the opening game despite the Indians having numerous scoring chances and led 3-1 entering the seventh with Blake Mooney one pitch away from securing his first win.
Instead, senior Tommy Goodale hit a ball that seemed destined to simply land down the left field line for a double that would give the Indians a chance to tie the game with another hit. Incredibly, in a park as big as Legion Field, the seemingly harmless fly ball somehow kept carrying until it landed over the fence for a two-run, game-tying homer.
“Our park is a lot smaller than this one, so when you come into a place like this all you’re really thinking about is hitting line drives and getting doubles,” Goodale said. “When you round the bag (at first), you’re always looking to see where the ball is. I did not think it was going to be a home run at all. When I saw it go over the fence, I just starting taking big, deep breaths.”
And suddenly, breaks like stranding the bases loaded in two of the first three innings and grounding into three double plays weren’t going against Indianola anymore. Instead, the Indians forced Ottumwa’s top hitter Collin Schulz into an inning-ending groundout with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh to force extra innings. Indianola then took its first lead without hitting a ball out of the infield as back-to-back infield hits, including a popped up single past the pitching mound, gave the Indians the only edge they would need in the opener.
“I think what was so stunning for our guys was to be one pitch away from winning and now we’re tied. It definitely plays mental games with you,” Jaeger said. “The game of baseball is tough because you’re going to fail more than you succeed in it. It’s all about how you overcome that failure that determines how successful you’re going to be overall.”
In game two, a lost fly ball in the lights allowed Indianola to push across two insurance runs to open a 6-3 lead in the eighth inning. Ottumwa scored twice in the bottom of the frame, but left the tying run at third when Mitch Stuchel lined right back to pitcher John Greiner half an inning after getting a late break in left that allowed Jordan Schulze to bring in the two decisive runs in the eighth.
“As soon as we saw those two baseballs fall in the top of the inning, we turned around to our outfielders and told them to let us know on any fly ball if they can see it,” Goodale, the Indians’ third baseman, said. “We needed to know immediately if we needed to go after the ball too. I think you could see (in the top of the inning) the shortstop thought the right fielder had that first ball when he didn’t. We made sure to know going into the bottom half that we had things covered going out on defense.”
While it might have ended in a painful manner, game two saw Indianola own control on the scoreboard for most of the way. Cameron Loew and Schulze combined for five hits in the nightcap and drove in four runs as the Indians (17-13, 11-7) used a dozen hits off Ottumwa sophomore hurler Cooper Smith to build off the momentum gained after the amazing triumph in the opener.
“We’re a good team, top to bottom, with 22 players that have put the time in to play our best baseball at this time of the season,” Goodale said.
Ottumwa, meanwhile, lost for the sixth time this season after leading in the fifth inning or later Wednesday while dropping to 4-7 in one-run ballgames. Executing late and figuring out how to win games is what postseason baseball success is all about.
Jaeger knows it’s something his Bulldog baseball had better figure out soon. No better time to start than after a four-day break, when Ottumwa (15-14, 11-7) travels to fifth-ranked (4A) Des Moines East to face the team with a perfect CIML Metro record and a team that may be hosting the Bulldogs again in a substate final.
“I give a lot of credit to our kids. Aside from about four or five games this whole season, we’ve either won or been right there with a chance to win every game,” Jaeger said. “We’ve got a 10-game stretch starting on Monday after a much-needed holiday break to get on a roll heading into the postseason.
“That’s one thing about this group. No matter what, they’re not going to quit fighting.”
Indianola 4, Ottumwa 3 (8)
Indianola 000 00 21 — 4 8 0
Ottumwa 001 200 00 — 3 7 3
Indianola battery — Dan Moller (W, 4-4) (8IP, 7H, 3R, 3ER, 8K, BB, HBP), Michael Harmison catching.
2B — Tommy Goodale.
HR — Goodale.
Hits — Goodale 2-3, Harmison 1-3, Brandon Johnson 1-3, Austin Marchant 1-3, Cameron Loew 1-4, Jake Stickels 1-4, Jordan Schulze 1-5.
RBI — Goodale 2, B. Johnson.
Runs — Goodale, Aaron Johnson, Marchant, Schulze.
Ottumwa battery — Blake Mooney (7IP, 6H, 3R, 3ER, 4K, 6BB, 3HBP) and Austin Denniston (L, 2-2) (IP, 2H, R, ER, 2BB), Seth Staton catching.
3B — Seth Griffiths, Chris Peden.
Hits — Griffiths 2-3, Peden 1-3, Staton 1-3, Spencer Fuller 1-4, Kyle Keck 1-4, Collin Schulz 1-4.
RBI — Tyler Johns, Peden.
Runs — Fuller, Griffiths, Peden.
Indianola 6, Ottumwa 5 (8)
Indianola 120 000 03 — 6 12 0
Ottumwa 100 020 02 — 5 7 1
Indianola battery — John Greiner (W, 5-3) (8IP, 7H, 5R, 5ER, 5K, 2BB), Joey Giofreddi catching.
2B — Tommy Goodale, Austin Marchant, Jordan Schulze, Jake Stickels.
Hits — Schulze 3-5, Stickels 2-4, Cameron Loew 2-5, Marchant 2-5, Giofreddi 1-2, Aaron Johnson 1-3, Goodale 1-4.
RBI — Loew 2, Schulze 2, A. Johnson, Marchant.
Runs — Giofreddi, Goodale, A. Johnson, Loew, Schulze, Stickels.
Ottumwa battery — Cooper Smith (L, 1-1) (8IP, 12H, 6R, 6ER, 5K, 3BB, HBP), Seth Staton catching.
3B — Collin Schulz.
Hits — Seth Griffiths 3-4, Schulz 3-4, Kyle Keck 1-4.
RBI — Griffiths, Spencer Fuller, Keck, Cody Miller.
Runs — Griffiths 2, Tyler Johns, Chris Peden, Schulz.