INDIANOLA — Centerville baseball head coach Ryan Hodges had seen a different look in his team's eyes even before Tuesday's 2A Substate 7 final vs Pleasantville came around. His observation was confirmed after the Big Reds dominated the Trojans 12-1 and punched their ticket to the state baseball tournament.

"The last two weeks I've seen a different look in their eyes. We always talk about staying hungry and staying focused. I'm seeing that in this group," Hodges said.

That fire took a second to turn into a blaze after the Trojans started the night with a lead-off home-run to straight-away center field. But Centerville starting pitcher Merrick Mathews wasn't worried.

"That home-run didn't phase me at all. I knew our offense could easily put us back in it," Mathews said. 

Pleasantville (17-19) would have one more hit the rest of night. And the Big Reds put their foot on the gas and kept it there.

"Our confidence is high right now," Mathews said. "Almost everyone on this field has been to a state tournament at least twice. We missed out last year and we're hungry to get back."

That hunger to close out his senior season with a state title showed up on the mound for Mathews. The senior threw five innings, allowing two hits and struck out seven batters after giving up the home-run.

The Centerville offense followed the home-run to start the game with a five-run first inning of their own thanks to their own bats, but also the mounting mistakes for Pleasantville. The Big Reds scored all of their runs in the first inning either off of wild pitches or infield errors by the Trojans. Kade Mosley said the Big Reds imposed their will, kept the energy high and knew they had bigger goals to reach.

"Our confidence is high. We want the title," Mosley said. "These seniors don't want to go out without a state title."

Centerville would wait to put the game out of hand until the fourth inning when the Big Reds put up seven runs on five hits, three walks and even more Pleasantville mistakes. The Big Reds wouldn't look back.

Hodges said the 2020-21 season showed him his team's fight and commitment even through the grind, and with a state title up for grabs, he doesn't see that going away anytime soon.

"When guys come to practice after a long season like this and they're energetic, you know good things are going to happen,“ said the Centerville skipper. “We are hungry for more. We love each other, we joke with each other and keep it light. This group wants more."

While the Big Reds (19-14) were dominating Pleasantville on Tuesday, chaos was reigning across the state in Class 2A substate finals with six ranked teams falling to unranked opponents. As a result, Centerville is right back where they started the season, second to Van Meter in the statewide pairings.

Centerville will open Class 2A state tournament play on Tuesday night against New Hampton (19-15) in the fourth and final quarterfinal game to be played on the second day of play at Merchants Park in Carroll. First pitch is scheduled for approximately 7 p.m.

Matt Belinson can be reached at mbelinson@ottumwacourier.com.

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