The Ottumwa Courier

March 21, 2013

Home opener nixed: Falcons in the cold after hot finish in Arizona

SCOTT JACKSON
Ottumwa Courier

OTTUMWA — Nearly every day they took to the diamond in Arizona, the members of the Indian Hills baseball team were bathed in warm sunny conditions.

The Falcons appeared to have bottled up some of that heat as a souvenir, winning their last three games of the season-opening swing through the desert. But as the Falcons returned to the home campus in Centerville, the lingering conditions of this past winter coldly greeted them.

“We’re not enjoying it too much,” IHCC head baseball coach Cam Walker said of the recent Iowa weather. “We had 90 degree weather almost every day we were down there. It’s tough to be there and now not even be able to play outside.

“We started out that trip kind of slow, but we finished up pretty well. We’re just trying to keep it rolling.”

The Falcons were hoping to keep that roll going on their home diamond Thursday. Indian Hills, 4-6 overall on the season, had their scheduled home opener with Ellsworth postponed due to Pat Daugherty Field being unplayable.

IHCC hopes to return to their home diamond this weekend with a four-game series against Dakota County. Baring a drastic change in the weather, however, those Saturday and Sunday doubleheaders are very much up in the air.

“Our field is not looking like it will be ready for the weekend,” Walker said. “The weather’s been dropping below freezing each night. It’s tough to get the field prepared for a game when you face those kind of conditions.

“We’re going to do whatever we can do to make sure we can play at home this weekend, but we’ll need a little help from Mother Nature.”

Whether it comes at Daugherty Field or somewhere else, IHCC’s next appearance on the diamond will be coming with a big boost of momentum gained from an offense that had been very productive early on this season. The Falcons averaged almost seven runs per game, including scoring at least five or more runs in each of their final six games in Arizona.

“I’m really excited with how we were coming together in the last half of that trip,” Walker said. “We had over 90 hits and stole 30 of 32 bases in those games.”

Sophomore Adam Deneke has been the catalyst thus far for the productive Falcon offense, leading IHCC in several offensive categories through the first 10 games. The South Dakota native has a team-high 15 hits, five extra-base hits, a .622 slugging percentage and has driven in 11 runs in his first nine games.

Deneke is far from alone. Sophomores Taylor Ostrich and Kevin Cicali as well as freshman Dario Polanco joined Deneke in collecting over 10 hits in the 10 games out west with 14 different players scoring the Falcons 68 runs. 15 different players also drove in runs for Indian Hills and 16 of the 17 position players that have stepped up to the plate for IHCC have collected least two hits or more so far this season.

For Walker, what made the Arizona trip so impressive was the Falcons’ ability to compete with teams that had much more experience on the diamond this season.

“I was happy with how well we played in all those games so early in our season,” Walker said. “We showed that even if we don’t have the experience quite yet, we can still play with some of the best teams in the nation.”

Experience on the diamond may have been the only thing keeping Indian Hills from returning to Iowa with a winning record. The lack of in-game action certainly had an impact on the Falcons’ pitching staff, which surrendered several leads and lost several high-scoring efforts by the IHCC offense.

“When we play a team like South Mountain and we can’t hold onto a ninth-inning lead, that’s when you realize the difference that is made in playing games,” Walker said. “That was (South Mountain’s) 10th game and we were just getting our feet wet.

“The thing that was really glaring was the need for our guys to keep pitching in real-game situations.”

That experience difference definitely showed up for the Falcons as the trip wore on. After dropping five straight winnable games in Arizona, IHCC’s pitching staff allowed just five total runs in their final three games as the Falcons closed out the trip with a a 5-2 win over Chandler-Gilbert, an 11-0 shutout of Pro Training and an 11-3 win at Phoenix College.

“You could see a big difference guys made in their second trip on to the mound,” Walker said. “It was definitely a leap in improvement. That’s what kind of makes it frustrating to return to these kind of conditions. We want to build off that experience and, right now, we can’t do it because we can’t get outside.”

The wet, cold conditions of southern Iowa are anything but hospitable for the Falcons. With their next nine games scheduled to be played in Centerville, IHCC is scrambling to find a way to get back out on the field.

“We definitely enjoy playing at home and we want to play there as much as possible,” Walker said. “If we can’t play at home, we want to be playing somewhere soon.”