Big Reds bow out after third straight state baseball trip

Kaleb Cochran (18), the lone senior on the 2019 Centerville High School baseball team, hoists the state participant trophy in front of his Big Red teammates on Tuesday after an 11-1 loss in the Class 3A state baseball tournament to Central DeWitt at Principal Park in Des Moines.

DES MOINES — Last year, Centerville blew out Wilton in the semifinals on their way to a 2A championship. Unfortunately for the sixth-seeded Big Reds, this year they were on the wrong end of a 11-1 blowout in five innings as they saw their season come to an end at the hands of third-seeded Central DeWitt in the state quarterfinals.

“I tip my hat to those guys. A few years ago, we were up here and we didn’t find holes. Last year, we found holes and that’s kind of what they did. They hit it everywhere we weren’t,” Centerville head coach Ryan Hodges said.

The Sabers would rattle off 11 runs on 12 hits while senior pitcher Lucas Bixby was electric, only allowing one run on three hits with six strikeouts.

“He did a heck of a job. He was firm and around the plate and he mixed it well. Our guys just couldn’t get any good swings on it,” Hodges said.

Bixby, who came into the game sporting a perfect 7-0 record with a 0.76 ERA, was working a hard fastball that Centerville had a difficult time catching up to. He then worked in his off-speed well while navigating through efficiently, needing only 66 pitches to get through five innings.

“We kind of had a scouting report on him but was way off. He threw very hard. At 6-foot-4 with long arms, that fastball is coming in pretty quick and hard,” Centerville’s Brady Kauzlarich said.

Central DeWitt started the scoring in the bottom of the first with Alex McAleer lining a RBI single into left field. Kauzlarich was able to make that the only run for the Sabers as he would pick off a runner at first and strike out Jake Swanson to strand a Central DeWitt runner on third.

Centerville looked poised to get that run back in the second inning with runners on second and third with one out, but Otis Williams would go down swinging to get Bixby out of an early jam.

In the bottom of the inning, Central DeWitt would add to their lead by getting a RBI single out of their nine hitter, Henry Bloom, who had a pair of hits and RBIs on the day. But once again, Kauzlarich was able to limit the damage by stranding two runners on base.

The Central DeWitt lead would balloon in the fourth with the Sabers putting up a four spot to make it a 6-0 game. Five straight hits by the Sabers to start the inning would lead to the eventual end of Kauzlarich’s day on the rubber. After a mound visit with the bases loaded, Kauzlarich would escape any more damage.

“It didn’t matter where I put it, they just put it in play and not only did they put it in play, they squared the ball up every single time,” Kauzlarich said. “You just can’t do anything about it. You really have to tip your cap to them. Hitting like that, you’re going a long ways. There is a reason they’re here and they proved it.”

The Big Reds would finally break through in the fifth inning as Otis Williams’ hard RBI single up the middle would ricochet off Bixby’s glove and would score Myles Clawson from third after he tripled to start the inning. That would be the only run for the Big Reds in the game as Clawson would then go out and replace Kauzlarich on the mound for the bottom of the inning.

Central DeWitt didn’t waste anytime with Clawson as they would rattle off five runs on three hits, including a walkoff double by Jacob Swanson with the bases loaded to end the game in the fifth.

This game marked the last for Centerville senior Kaleb Cochran, who got his first start in a state tournament game and was a part of the Big Reds’ success the last couple of years.

“Kaleb is the lone senior that has stuck it out all these years, and this year he steps in and fills a hole for us. There are a lot of guys that would like one trophy to go home with and he’s got three so it’s pretty special. I love the kid, he gave us everything he had for five years and I couldn’t ask for a nicer guy,” Hodges said.

Centerville has made the state tournament in three straight seasons, losing in the semifinals in 2017, winning the 2A title last year and now losing in the quarterfinals this year.

Centerville ends the year with a record of 24-7. They lose one senior in Cochran and return a plethora of talent that will help them try to make a fourth straight state tournament next season.

“We’ll be back, we’ve done something that Centerville hasn’t done, ever,” Hodges said. “We knew we were going to have our hands full but you come up here thinking you’re going to do it but you tip your hat and move on. We beat some quality teams on the way here and that’s a heck of a team. We can’t hang our heads, we just have to look forward to next year and get after it.”

Colin Peters is a sports reporter for the Daily Iowegian. He can be reached at cpeters@dailyiowegian.com or by calling the newsroom at 641-856-6336. Follow him on Twitter @ColinPetersDI.

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