By SCOTT JACKSON Courier sports writer
---- — OTTUMWA – Neither rain nor sleet nor snow. Nor postponements nor change of locations nor incredible catches nor late-season challenges.
When it comes to reliablity, the postal service has nothing on the Iowa Western baseball program. The fourth-ranked (DI) Reivers clinched their 11th consecutive regular season Region XI championship as Iowa Western shutout Indian Hills twice 4-0 and 2-0 Monday.
“The pride of that is that baseball is a game of consistancy, and to be that number one team in the region going into postseason play 11 consecutive years is a true mark of consistancy for our program,” Reivers head coach Marc Rardin said. “I take pride in the fact that our kids show up, day in and day out, and play with that same level every day every season.”
Rardin has led Iowa Western to plenty of success on plenty of diamond over the years, highlighted by celebrating national championship victories at Sam Suplizio Field in Grand Junction, Colorado to cap each of the last two seasons. On Monday, the Reivers clinched another title on a diamond the team had never been on before as a week of rain, and even snow, forced school officials to finally decide Monday to hold the first two games of the final regular-season regional series between the teams at Ottumwa’s Legion Memorial Field with Pat Daugherty Field still too soggy for action.
“We had a couple doubleheaders on the road last week and we didn’t have the tarp on last week, so we’ve had to deal with the weather throughout all of last week trying to keep it dry,” Indian Hills head coach Cam Walker said. “We were hoping it would straighten up enough to play on it, but after looking over it (Monday) there was just no way we could have gotten out there with the condition it was in.”
Iowa Western made themselves right at home right away in their first trip to Wapello County, arriving in Ottumwa at 1:30 p.m. for the 4 p.m. first pitch.
“I’m not one of those coaches that believes in rushing his players, so we left (Council Bluffs) at around 9 a.m. and got here with plenty of time to enjoy the area,” Rardin said. “We went over to the (Quincy Place) mall and let the guys go get some lunch. We took our time getting ready to play.”
Once things got underway, it was buisness as usual for Rardin’s Reivers. A very workman-like effort went into the two wins that clinched the top seed in the upcoming Region XI baseball tournament, which gets underway Friday at Tom Brener Field in Muscatine with the Reivers facing the host team Cardinals at 11 a.m.
“Just having the number one seed going into the tournament doesn’t mean you’re going to win the regional tournament. It doesn’t mean you’re going to get to the JUCO World Series, but it shows that you’ve shown up and done enough to put yourself in a tremendous position to get there,” Rardin said. “To do that, you’ve got to figure out a number of different ways to win.”
There wasn’t anything Iowa Western did spectaularly well Monday to pick up their fifth and sixth wins in a row against IHCC this year. The Reivers only had three extra base hits, three doubles, and just three RBI hits while using seven pitchers to pick up the back-to-back shutouts.
Indian Hills gave themselves little margin for error at the plate, connecting on just six hits as a team over the 14 innings. Those limited connections at home plate led to limited scoring chances as IHCC only put multiple runners on base twice in the entire doubleheader - once in each game.
The first time came with the Falcons trailing 3-0 in game one. After finally getting two runners into scoring position for the first time, Dario Polanco flew out to the left to end the fourth inning in what would be the last chance IHCC would have to even tie the opener.
Indian Hills best chance for a game-winning hit came late in game two. With two on and two out, Taylor Ostrich nailed a drive in the bottom of the sixth that looked like it might drop for a go-ahead extra base hit before hanging up for an inning-ending fly out to center.
“We just couldn’t get much of rythum going at the plate,” Walker said. “We were taking pitches we should have swung at and swinging at pitches we shouldn’t be swinging at. We need to get that out of our system going into the postseason.”
The Falcons were also their own worst enemy throughout the doubleheader both in the field and on the basepaths. Indian Hills (29-20, 13-9) committed six defensive errors, leading to a pair of unearned runs for the Reivers, while any hopes of creating scoring rallies in other innings was stopped by four different Falcon baserunners being thrown out or picked off by Iowa Western (41-10, 18-4).
Before heading off to face Marshalltown Friday at 2 p.m. in their regional tournament opener, IHCC will face Iowa Western in one final regular season doubleheader. When and where those games will be played is still up in the air as the condition of Daugherty Field will need to be evaluated further before determining whether to play later today or return to Legion Field for the 1 p.m. first pitch.
“No matter where we’re playing at, we want to come back out and play a lot better,” Walker said. “It’s always important to get a rhytum going into the postseason. You want to be feeling good about yourselves and we want to be playing with some enthusiasum starting (today).”
The Falcons were not without a memorible moment of their own to take away from Ottumwa on Monday thanks to centerfielder Edgar Lebron. The native New Yorker made what some called the ‘greatest play in Legion Field history’ when the freshman made a diving barehanded grab of a deep fly ball hit by David Parrett while crashing backwards unprotected into the metal fence.
“We’ve never even taken batting practice on this field, so not having a feel for this field is tough,” Walker said. “I think Edgar lost his footing out there and just threw up his hand kind of like Kevin Mitchell did, only Kevin Mitchell did it running down the left field line. He wasn’t running backwards.”
“He did a great job on that play.”
No. 4 (DI) Iowa Western 4, Indian Hills 0
Iowa Western 020 100 1 — 4 6 2
Indian Hills 000 000 0 — 0 2 3
Iowa Western battery — James Darcy (W, 7-1) (5IP, 2H, 3K, 2BB), Matt Hanchar (IP, K) and Drake Roboson (IP, K), David Parrett catching.
2B — Jacob Sheldon-Collins.
Hits — Grant Kay 2-3, Sheldon-Collins 2-4, Kaden Moore 1-3, Kyle Richards 1-3.
RBI — Derek Francis, Kay.
Runs — Luke Tewes 2, Moore, Richards.
Indian Hills battery — Jake Stalzer (L, 4-3) (5IP, 3H, 3R, 2ER, 2K, 2BB, HBP) and Matt Lashlee (2IP, 3H, R, ER, 2K), Kevin Valera catching.
Hits — Joel Booker 1-3, Junior Santos 1-3.
No. 4 (DI) Iowa Western 2, Indian Hills 0
Iowa Western 010 000 1 — 2 7 0
Indian Hills 000 000 0 — 0 4 3
Iowa Western battery — Craig Larkin (W, 5-0) (3IP, 2H, 4K, BB), Sean Johnson (2 1/3IP, H, 4K, 2BB), Nick Thayer (2/3IP, H) and Zach Larrison (S, 5) (IP, K), Kaden Moore catching.
2B — Derek Francis, Matt Kianka.
Hits — Kianka 2-4, Coy Chafin 1-2, Francis 1-2, Jordan Schlehuber 1-2, Kaden Moore 1-3, Adam Morey 1-3.
RBI — Chafin.
Runs — Francis, Jacob Sheldon-Collins.
Indian Hills battery — Christian Torres (L, 4-2) (5IP, 6H, R, ER, 2K, BB) and Joelfi Arias (2IP, H, R, 2K), Kevin Valera catching.
2B — Junior Santos.
Hits — Dario Polanco 2-3, Caleb Ratzman 1-2, Santos 1-3.