Too little, too late.
That was the story for a Creston baseball team that refused to go down without a fight here Friday night, scoring two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning, before undefeated Greene County pitcher Riah Nelson finally got the final out of an 8-5 district victory.
The win propels the Rams (15-17) into tonight’s district championship game against No. 8-ranked Glenwood (26-8) at Panther Field. Glenwood advanced with an 8-1 win over Winterset.
A ninth straight defeat ends Creston’s season at 12-19. The Panthers fell behind 5-1 after three innings before Nate Haley led a revived offensive attack against Nelson. Haley hit his third home run of the season as Creston got a run in the fifth to make it 7-3, and he stroked an RBI double in the two-run seventh as the Panthers had the tying run at the plate in a three-run loss.
“I thought in the middle of the sixth, we were going to come back and get this,” said Creston coach Steve Birchard.
A leaky defense again plagued the Panthers, as only four of the eight runs were earned off starting pitcher Cole Crawford and reliever Keaton Hulett, who yielded only four hits and three runs over the final 4 2/3 innings. Creston had five errors while the Rams drew three walks. Both teams had 10 hits.
“We would sandwich an error in there, just enough to keep things going for them,” Birchard said. “They had three hits with an 0-2 count and another two-strike hit. We were just making too good of pitches there. But you have thoughts of strikeouts and putting it in the perfect spot when your defense isn’t playing real well.”
Haley had a big night in the loss, going 3-for-4 with a double, homer and two RBI. Hulett had two hits and the other RBI. Conner Pals hit a triple and drag-bunt single, and Zach Powers had a pair of hits to conclude a senior season in which he struck out only twice.
The 10 hits and five runs were relatively productive against the Ram pitching ace. Coming in, Nelson was 5-0 with a 1.47 ERA along with 51 strikeouts and only seven walks in 38 innings pitched. On Friday he walked four and fanned three while yielding five earned runs in seven innings.
“This probably wasn’t his best effort, but he’s our number one and this makes him 6-0,” said Greene County coach Mark Sawhill. “We didn’t even know if were going to have him at the beginning of the year. He was fighting some injuries. He’ll throw a changeup and a little bit of a slider. He used to have a great curveball, but then he had those elbow issues.”
Sawhill said he could tell Nelson was tiring in the Panthers’s two-run seventh, but felt he could finish as he didn’t reach 100 pitches until late in that inning.
“The key for us tonight was that we weren’t booting the ball around,” Sawhill said. “We’ve gone into places where we’ve done that.”
It was the final game for Panther seniors Briar Evans, Powers and Hulett.
Tonight’s winner faces either Carroll or third-ranked Harlan in the substate round. Carroll defeated Denison-Schleswig, 11-2, and Harlan held off Atlantic, 8-7, in nine innings.
Greene Co. 8, Creston 5
R H E
Greene Co. 122 200 1 — 8 10 2
Creston 001 110 2 — 5 10 5
GC: Riah Nelson 3K 4BB and Tony Beger. Cr: Cole Crawford 0K 1BB, Keaton Hulett (3) 1K 2BB and Zach Powers. W — Nelson. L— Crawford. HR — Cr: Nate Haley. 3B — Cr: Conner Pals. 2B — GC: Nelson, Alex Gordon; Cr: Haley. RBI — GC: Gordon 1, Alex Rasmussen 1, T.J. Lint 1; Cr: Haley 2, Hulett 1. Multiple hitters — GC: Matt Paulsen 2, Rasmussen 2; Cr: Haley 3, Hulett 2, Pals 2, Powers 2.