KALONA — The Cardinal Comets were six outs away from facing IMS last summer in the Class 1A district finals. Burlington-Notre Dame ended those hopes by scoring six times in the sixth, bringing Rick Scott's first season and the helm of the Comets to a heartbreaking end.
On Wednesday, Cardinal and IMS put together an instant classic worthy of any postseason stage. Cameron Honomichl delivered the decisive blow in the top of the ninth with a lead-off home run as the Comets truly earned a 3-2 road win at IMS.
Jarrett Rea clinched Cardinal's second win in less than 24 hours, but not without a lot of drama. IMS put the tying and winning runs in scoring position with one out, only for Rea to strike out Drew Baluvelt and Cody Jones to clinch the nine-inning Comet win.
"My team is mentally tough," said Scott, who is now 8-3 in his second season as Cardinal head baseball coach. "We went down to New London and didn't get home until midnight. Jarrett came in to pitch in the seventh inning of that game (a 6-1 win) and shut them down with the bases loaded. For that boy to come in and do the same thing a day later shows me that he has a lot of grit."
Rea not only record the final two strikeouts, but earned the win in relief coming in for Ryan Clark in the eighth inning with the score tied at 2-2. Rea forced Trevor Leyden to pop out and Blake Bontrager to fly out with the winning run on base, extending IMS into the ninth.
"I just knew that I needed to throw strikes," Rea said. "I knew I had my defense behind me."
Honomichl finally snapped the 2-2 tie, driving a ball deep over the extended fence in right at the IMS diamond. It was the first run for the Comets since a two-run hit by Dawson Lewis in the second inning gave Cardinal an early 2-0 lead.
"I knew I needed to get something started," Honomichl said. "I had a pitch to hit, so I drove it. Being that it's a high fence, I wasn't sure I hit high enough to get it over. I knew I hit on a line. Fortunately, it was just high enough."
That gave Rea the lead to protect. After striking out Landon Schrock to open the ninth, Rea allowed a hit to Jacob Boller, who tooke second on a wild pitch. Kobe Bontrager appeared on the verge of delivering a game-tying hit to left, but a diving stop by Comet shortstop Jentry Arbogast kept Boller from advancing past third base.
"When Jentry grabbed that ball, that built my confidence up," Rea said. "That let me know my defense is out there doing this for me. I knew Jentry had my back."
After Bontrager took second on a stolen base, Rea struck out Blauvelt on three pitches. After falling behind 3-0 to Jones, Rea came back with three straight strikes that Jones could not connect on in search of a potential game-winning two-run hit.
"As soon as I got that first strike, I knew I could come back with two more and get him," Rea said of his final encounter with Jones. "It's nerve-racking when you get to that point, but once you get to 3-2, that one more strike is all you need."
Griffin Greiner drove in a pair of runs, and the Comets pulled away in the early innings for SEI Superconference South Division road win over the Tigers.
Jentry Arbogast dominated the Tigers on the mound, allowing just one run on four hits and striking out 10 in 6 2/3 innings.
Cardinal led 2-1 in the third inning when Greiner doubled in Colby Aschenbrenner and Cameron Honomichl for a 4-1 advantage. Aschenbrenner, Arbogast and Braden Ridgway also drove in runs.
New London scored its only run in the bottom of the first on an error by shortstop Ryan Clark.
Cardinal will return to SEISC south action on Monday night in Keosauqua to face Van Buren. It will be the third meeting between head coaches, and brothers, Rick (Cardinal) and Chad (Van Buren) Scott after splitting two meetings last summer.