CENTERVILLE – It wasn't going to happen again. Not if Derek Kawlewski had anything to say about it.
Six times this season prior to Tuesday, Indian Hills and Iowa Western had met on the baseball diamond. All six times, Iowa Western came out on top by the time the final pitch was thrown.
Three times, however, the advantage on the scoreboard didn't belong to the Reivers until the final few pitchers were being thrown by Falcon pitchers struggling to try and hold onto to a late-inning lead. On Tuesday, Kawlewski could have easily found himself in that same position as the fourth-ranked Reivers put two runners on with one out in the seventh trying to rally from a 6-3 deficit.
Not this time. Kawlewski responded to the challenge by throwing six-straight strikes to Alex Greer and Kaden Moore, striking out both batters to clinch the Falcons first win over the two-time defending national champions of the season.
"To lose the first four games to these guys at their place and lose the first two games of this series, it feels really good to beat these guys finally," Kawlewski said. "I knew that if just stepped up and threw strikes, my defense would be behind me to make the plays if they happened to put the ball in play."
"If they were going to hit the ball, they were going to hit the ball. Fortunately, nothing happened."
By the end of the day, there was nothing for Iowa Western to celebrate as the regular season wrapped up on Tuesday at Pat Daugherty Field for the fourth-ranked Reivers and Falcons. IHCC took the last two regular season games from regular season Region XI champion Iowa Western, following the game one 6-3 victory with a walk-off 5-4 eight-inning win that saw the Falcons overcome another Reiver rally with one of their own.
After losing a 3-1 lead in the sixth inning as Iowa Western scored three times to take their only lead of the nightcap, the Falcons made the most of what could have been their last at-bat of the regular season. A pair of errors by the Reivers along with a single by Joel Booker opened the door to a IHCC loading the bases with no one out, allowing Juan Figueroa to bring in Taylor Ostrich with the game-tying run to extend the contest.
"We wanted both of these games coming into the day," Ostrich said. "We've let it happen too many times where a game gets away from us. We're too good a team for that to happen. It wasn't going to happen to us this time."
After leaving the bases loaded with one out in the seventh, Edgar Lebron made sure IHCC didn't repeat the same fate in the eighth. The freshman outfielder, who made an amazing diving catch in center in the series opener on Monday, ended the series on a liner that forced Reiver right fielder Kyle Richards to make a diving catch which was good enough to bring in Junior Santos with the game-winning run.
"It felt great to finally beat these guys," Lebron said after coming up with four hits, two runs and the game-winning RBI on Tuesday. "We come out here every day to play as hard as we can every day and we're not going to give up. We've got a lot of great players. We keep on fighting and finally did what we're supposed to do."
All in all, it was almost exactly what Falcons head coach Cam Walker was hoping for after watching his team drop two frustrating decisions to the Reivers on Monday at Legion Memorial Field in Ottumwa. In less than 24 hours, IHCC went from a team that struggled both at the plate and on the bases to a team that played with confidence in all facets of the game.
As a result, the Falcons went from being shutout through 16 innings against Iowa Western to scoring 11 runs in the final 13.
"We want to beat everybody we play and really, the only team that can beat us is us," Walker said. "It's good to show that again to close out the regular season and it's good to get that momentum going into the regional tournament."
Fundamentally, there were a lot of things Indian Hills just simply improved on that ultimately made the biggest difference in knocking off the Reivers twice. The Falcons were certainly more patient at the plate, drawing 13 walks in the two games after striking out 13 times on Monday and did a better job base running, stealing five bases after being picked off or thrown out on the bases seven times in two losses one day earlier.
"That's our game — stealing bases and getting the running game going. That's something we just couldn't quite get going on Monday," Walker said. "We got back to playing more Indian Hills baseball. We got back to putting pressure on the defense and producing runs that way."
"We knew we had it in us. We weren't just going to let them walk all over us. It was just a matter of us coming out here and playing good baseball," lead-off hitter Caleb Ratzman added. Ratzman was at the head of the Falcons' offensive resurgence, reaching base seven times in the two games while scoring three times.
While a lot of little things made a difference in the results, the biggest turnaround may have come in the big swings of the bat by Ostrich. The hot-hitting sophomore from Carroll truly changed the tone of the day for the Falcons in the third inning of game one after IHCC finally scored their first run of the series on a throwing error by Reiver catcher Kaden Moore that should have ended the inning.
Given the opportunity, Ostrich provided the Falcons with a huge boost by blasting a three-run homer to right-center field. It would be the start of a big day for Ostrich, who lifted his fourth home run of the season in game two to highlight a four-hit, five-RBI day.
"I'm seeing the ball really well right now and I'm picking the pitch out that I want to hit," Ostrich, last week's ICCAC scholar athlete of the week, said. "Most importantly, it's about being a sophomore and being a leader. Being in that three-spot in the lineup, I feel like I need to do my job to bring runs in."
The two wins give Indian Hills (31-20, 15-9) exactly the boost of momentum they were looking for heading into the postseason, where the Falcons may very well see No. 4 Iowa Western (41-12, 18-6) a few more times this weekend in Muscatine. First up, however, will be a regional semifinal matchup with Marshalltown Friday afternoon in Game 2 of the double-elimination tournament at Tom Bruner Field at 2 p.m.
"It's important to show we can beat anybody no matter if it's Iowa Western, Marshalltown or Muscatine," Walker said. "Nobody's unbeatable. The game's the same for everybody. We won a doubleheader against a good team, but if we play our game we can beat a lot of teams know matter who it is."
Indian Hills 6, No. 4 (DI) Iowa Western 3
Iowa Western 000 120 0 — 3 8 1
Indian Hills 004 011 0 — 6 9 2
Iowa Western battery — John Roberts (L, 2-1) (2 1/3IP, 2H, 2R, 2ER, 3K, BB), Kyle McCulloch (1 2/3IP, 3H, 2R, 2ER, HBP), Thomas Busbice (1 2/3IP, 4H, 2R, 2ER, BB, HBP) and Mike Hanchar (1/3IP, K), Kaden Moore catching.
2B — Grant Kay, Luke Tewes.
Hits — Kay 3-4, Derek Francis 1-2, Adam Morey 1-3, Tewes 1-3, Alex Greer 1-4, Jacob Sheldon Collins 1-4.
RBI — Moore 2.
Runs — Kay, Morey, Sheldon-Collins.
Indian Hills battery — Sam Ross (W, 4-2) (4 1/3IP, 4H, 2R, 2ER, 3K, 2HBP) and Derek Kawlewski (2 1/3IP, 3H, R, 4K), Kevin Valera catching.
2B — Edgar Lebron, Dario Polanco.
HR — Taylor Ostrich.
Hits — Juan Figeroa 2-3, Lebron 2-3, Ostrich 2-3, Caleb Ratzman 2-3, Polanco 1-3.
RBI — Ostrich 4, Darryl Velez.
Runs — Ratzman 2, Lebron, Ostrich, Ratzman, Junior Santos, Valera.
Indian Hills 5, No. 4 (DI) Iowa Western 4
Iowa Western 000 013 00 — 4 6 4
Indian Hills 110 010 11 — 5 5 2
Iowa Western battery — Chad Worman (2IP, 2H, 2R, 2ER, K, BB), Quinn Carpenter (1 2/3IP, 2K, 4BB), Kyle McCulloch (1 1/3IP, 2H, R, ER, HBP), Robert Youngdahl (2/3IP, K, 2BB), Zach Larrison (2/3IP, 2R, H, K, 2BB), Drake Robison (L, 2-2) (1 1/3IP, R, ER, 2K, 2BB, HBP), David Parrett catching.
2B — Grant Kay.
Hits — Coy Chafin 1-3, Thomas Clay 1-3, George Gugino 1-3, Kay 1-3, Kyle Richards 1-3, Parrett 1-4.
RBI — Richards 2, Clay, Gugino.
Runs — Gugino, Matt Kianka, Parrett, Jordan Schlehuber.
Indian Hills battery — Luke Schneider (4IP, 2H, 2BB), Marcco Lovato (1 2/3IP, 5H, 4R, 4ER, K, BB), Alsis Herrera (1 1/3IP, K, HBP) and Matt Burnham (W, 2-0) (IP), Kevin Valera catching.
HR — Taylor Ostrich.
Hits — Edgar Lebron 2-3, Ostrich 2-3, Joel Booker 1-3.
RBI — Juan Figeroua, Lebron, Ostrich, Nicholas Perez.
Runs — Ostrich 2, Lebron, Caleb Ratzman, Junior Santos.