NORWALK — It was a lofty goal, but one Ryan Hodges believed his team could achieve.
Tucker Christensen, however, had other plans for the Centerville baseball team on Wednesday. The senior improved to 7-1 on the season for Norwalk, pitching a complete game with seven strikeouts and just seven base runners allowed in a 4-1 win for the Warriors in the Class 3A, Substate 6 championship game.
The loss denied Centerville a chance to play in a fourth straight state baseball tournament. For juniors like Brady Kauzlarich, who injured his hamstring trying to beat out a ground ball to open the fifth inning, the hope of becoming the first class of players to qualify for state in all five years of varsity high school baseball came to an end.
“I’m just thankful I had the chance to get to play with these guys this season,” Kauzlarich said. “With everything going on this year, it could have been one practice and we could have been done. We could have been done after one game. We could have been done before this game. You see what’s going on around the state and you never knew when this season would be over.
“We talked about it as a team all year. We made sure our season ended on an out. It was going to end on the field. I’m thankful we had a season and we showed what we could do. We had more to prove, but I think we proved a lot as a team. We came far, especially for not having as many games this season.”
Kauzlarich could only watch from the bench as Hunter Gottman took the lead-off hitter’s at-bat in the top of the seventh with Kayden Kauzlarich hoping to get one last swing at giving the Big Reds a chance to extend their season. Instead, Gottman struck out swinging against Christensen, bringing Centerville’s substate championship run to an end.
“I never thought we were going to give up. We do not do that. We fight to very end,” Brady Kauzlarich said. “We kept trying to get it started. Give Norwalk credit. They made plays. That’s all you have to do, but if they would have given us just a little bit of an opportunity, we would have ran with it.”
Norwalk never trailed after Evan Borst delivered a two-run double to deep left field with two outs in the second inning. Centerville threatened in the third, loading the bases with two outs before McCain Oden grounded out to second, keeping a 2-0 Warrior lead in tact.
Three straight hits in the fourth inning finally allowed the Big Reds to break through on the scoreboard. Walker White singled with one out, advanced to third on a double to right by Kolby Micetich and came home on a high chopper by Myles Clawson that left Norwalk third baseman Jake Fees with no play to make.
Christensen, however, would prevent the Big Reds from taking the lead, grabbing a ball hit by Otis Williams and tagging out Micetich trying to race back to third. Kauzlarich, meanwhile, tried to continue on the mound for Centerville after injuring his hamstring in the top of the fifth. Norwalk took advantage, manufacturing a pair of runs with eight straight batters making contact in what proved to be the last inning of the night for the Big Red all-state junior.
Christensen get that run back in the fifth, driving a pitch into deep center for a sacrifice fly, bringing home Borst. Ryan Wood brought home Jake Fees, beating out an infield single with the bases loaded giving Norwalk a 4-1 lead.
“Brady’s got too much of a future ahead of him to risk anything, but he asked me to give him one more inning (on the mound),” Hodges said. “Those are the breaks that happen in baseball. When something happens, it seems like a domino effect. It’s funny how that happens.”
Norwalk improves to 17-5 on the season and will play on Tuesday, July 29, in one of four Class 3A state baseball quarterfinals at nearby Principal Park in Des Moines. Centerville ends the season with a record of 12-4 and will look at accomplishing a new goal next season by qualifying for five substate championship games in five years of high school baseball with the hope of making it to a fourth state tournament.
“I knew from day one, from that first trip we made to state when they were eighth graders in 2017, their goal became to try and make it to state every single season they were part of this program,” Hodges said. “It was a pretty big goal, but these guys are hungry and determined to get back to Principal Park. It’s a great place to be at by the end of the season.”