OTTUMWA — Baseball, perhaps more than any other sport, can produce some incredibly memorable moments.
That's perfect for the Ottumwa Bulldogs, who are proving to be a quite a memorable team.
Fittingly, in the game of the season at Legion Memorial Field, Ottumwa wrote a memorable end to the Class 4A, Substate 6 final. Down 1-0 entering a make-or-break sixth inning, the Bulldogs used consecutive hits by Jesus Jaime and Adam Greiner to spark a rally that ended a 15-year drought for the program.
For the first time since 2006, Ottumwa is headed to the Class 4A state baseball tournament. Jaime and Greiner both scored in the bottom of the sixth with Greiner crossing home plate as senior catcher Adam Denniston raced down the line to beat out a late throw to first base with two outs, pushing the decisive run across in a 2-1 win over ninth-ranked Iowa City High Wednesday night in an epic postseason battle.
"Our kids just hung around. I told them from the get-go that we had to be able to fight," John Jaeger said after leading Ottumwa to state for the first time in his ninth season as head coach. "The guys are always ready to battle. They're always ready to rock and roll. I knew getting through the fifth with the heart of the order coming up that we had the heart of our order coming up.
"I told those seniors going into the sixth that this would be their last chance at Legion Field. Those guys are the ones that really made it happen."
Mitch Wood was the first of four OHS seniors that would step to the plate in the bottom of the sixth with Iowa City High leading 1-0. Wood appeared to have erased that lead with one swing, driving a towering fly ball to left on the first pitch of the inning that might have been out of most ballparks.
Typical Legion Field. Wood's deep fly ball found the glove of Iowa City High left fielder Cedric Dunnwald, leaving Ottumwa's fifth-year senior starting shortstop with a sinking feeling.
"I was starting to get a little sketched out. I was thinking I had to make something happen leading off," Wood said. "When that ball was caught, I started to get a little down."
While it may not have left the park, Wood's deep flyout actually encouraged his teammates. Both Jaime and Greiner followed by lining pitches off Cade Obermueller, who had shut out Ottumwa allowing just one hit and struck out nine batters entering the sixth.
"When Mitch hit that deep fly ball, it told the rest of us that we could make contact off (Obermueller)," Greiner said. "We realized he was starting to get tired and we went up there looking to attack."
Jaime, who injured his shoulder going over the fence trying to track down a foul ball on Friday in a postseason win over Cedar Rapids Washington, served as the designated hitter in Wednesday's substate final. Playing with the injured shoulder required Jaime to improvise both on the plate and on the bases, where top run-producer on the Bulldogs slid somewhat awkwardly into third base before coming home on a wild pitch by Little Hawk reliever John Klosterman to tie the game at 1-1.
"I was basically swinging the bat one-handed the whole night," Jaime said. "I had just made up my mind that I was going to play in this game, whatever it took. I couldn't swing the bat normally because my shoulder would start hurting. I basically used my other hand as a guide on my swings and I couldn't slide like I normally do because I would have come down on that shoulder."
While Jaime scored the tying run, setting off a wild celebration in the Ottumwa dugout, Greiner moved up to second base and advanced to third on a groundout by Carter Thompson. That set the stage for Denniston, who played with a heavy heart having lose his grandfather just one day earlier
"It's been hard on me these last couple of days, but I knew I had to try and win it for him," Denniston said. "I had to do everything in my power to win this. I had to have that confidence and I definitely have that confidence in my team."
Denniston hit a ground ball to Gavin Koch that would have been the third out and sent the substate final into the seventh tied at 1-1. Instead, the ball bounced away from the City High infielder, allowing Denniston to race down the line as Greiner raced home with the late throw allowing Ottumwa to score the go-ahead run.
"When we went up to watch the Burlington-Iowa City High (substate semifinal) game on Monday, the first play of the game was a groundball to that same infielder. It was almost the exact same groundball and he had an error," Greiner said. "When I was at third, I kept thinking if Adam was going to hit a ground ball, he needed to hit it to that infielder.
I was getting excited as I was running down the line. There's always a 50-50 chance he's going to miss it, but I was thinking it was more like 75-25 that he was going to miss it."
Tanner Schark would slam the door on Iowa City High (29-14), striking out the final two batters after coaxing a line out to right by Koch to open the seventh. After setting down Dunnwald looking, Saunders blazed a fast ball past the swing of Jacob Means, setting off a wild celebration not seen by an Ottumwa team in almost two decades.
"There's nothing better than this," Greiner said. "It was an incredible crowd. The whole community came out here to support us. They're all behind us. We can't wait to take them to Iowa City."
Ottumwa (30-9) will find out Thursday where they will be seeded in the eight-team Class 4A Iowa High School State Baseball Tournament, which begins on July 29 at Duane Banks Field on the University of Iowa campus. Joining OHS at state will be seven ranked teams including No. 1 Pleasant Valley (34-4), No. 2 Ankeny (31-6), No. 3 Johnston (35-7), No. 4 West Des Moines Dowling Catholic (32-7), No. 6 Dubuque Hempstead (30-10), No. 7 Cedar Rapids Prairie (32-8) and No. 9 Waukee (26-15).
"I think we're kind of a sleeper team going into the state tournament. I think there's a lot of people that are looking past us," Jaeger said. "Our pitching staff is really deep. We don't have guys that throw in the mid to upper-80s, but we have guys that are going to be around the strike zone and we have the defense to back it up.
"To win three games in three days (to win the state championship), you're going to have to have a bullpen. We have a bullpen we can count on. No matter who we call on that day, they're going to be ready. I think we have a decent shot. Our guys definitely think we have a shot. That's the biggest thing. They have that confidence."