Southeast Polk head coach Scott Belger and assistant Dave Hartman were part of the pregame festivities here Wednesday night observing the 25th anniversary of the 1989 Creston baseball team that began a run of five straight conference championships
Then, on the field where they both played (and Hartman coached), they saw their Class 4A Rams slug two three-run homers in the second inning on the way to a 15-1 victory in five innings.
Besides the seven-run second inning, which chased Panther starting pitcher Nathan Haley, the Rams scored in every other inning while totaling 11 hits. Southeast Polk improved to 9-4 heading into a Friday matchup with defending state champion Johnston in CIML play.
Creston fell to 3-4 overall, as no pitcher went more than two innings in preparation for today’s conference doubleheader at Carroll Kuemper and a home game Friday against an Atlantic team that knocked off eighth-ranked Harlan Tuesday night.
“It was nice to see the guys come out and hit early in the game with some good execution at the plate,” Belger said. “We scored some big runs early, and our sophomore pitcher gave us a few good innings there until he started to tire a little. Zach Hamilton came in and got us out of a huge jam there in the third, which kind of took the wind out of their sails a little bit, I think.”
Through two innings, Creston’s only hit was a double by freshman catcher Chase Shiltz.
But in the third inning the Panthers seemed to have a rally started, trailing 10-0. Conner Pals hit a leadoff single and used a stolen base and wild pitch to advance to third. Cole Crawford stroked an RBI single.
Trevor Luther and Haley each drew walks to load the bases with no outs.
But instead of pushing across more runs, the rally was extinguished. Hamilton came in with a mix of a sharp fastball and sharp-breaking curve and retired the side on two strikeouts and a flyout.
Then in the Southeast Polk half of the fourth, two runs scored on an infield single with alert baserunning as the throw to first was barely late to get the batter. That made it 12-1. Scott Ault, the third Southeast Polk pitcher, stroked a three-run triple off freshman hurler Kadon Hulett in the fifth to make it 15-1.
Haley hit a deep double to left in the bottom of the fifth, but that runner was erased on a sacrifice fly attempt by the Panthers off Shiltz’s bat. Luke Hassman, who hit one of the three-run homers, threw all the way home on the play as catcher Cody Hyler applied the tag for the final out of the game.
“We just got Luke back from a suspension and he had been playing third base, but we put him in the outfield and he did OK out there,” Belger said. “He’s a big ox, 6-4 and 240 pounds, and he can really hit so we want his bat in the lineup.
“Creston has a few good hitters at the top of their order,” Belger added. “They seem to be better than last year.”
On a night when baseball excellence was celebrated in a pregame ceremony with 21-year coach Vic Belger throwing out the first pitch, Creston coach Steve Birchard said his team didn’t execute some nuances of the game that might have contained the score to a degree.
“They do things good teams do,” Birchard said. “We have to play heads up out there against a team like that at all times, with some baseball savvy. We aspire to be a team like that. You have to find something to do on every play, think how can I be involved in the play? We still have to tell people to do that stuff sometimes. It’s a matter of thinking as one out there. They make plays and they hit the ball, which is what good teams do.”
Birchard felt his team adjusted to the pitching better as the game went along, but timely RBI hits were scarce.
“In 4A, especially, you see guys throw more than one pitch for strikes consistently, so they’re using different pitches in all counts to keep you wondering,” Birchard said.
On the positive side, he said the entire staff is available to help at least in short stints on the mound in the three conference games today and Friday.
“The conference is looking real interesting, we need to be successful in these games to keep ourselves in the position we want to be in,” he said.
As for the pregame ceremony honoring the conference championship teams of 1989 through 1993, everyone seemed pleased.
“It was a nice crowd and considering it was on a Wednesday night, a pretty good turnout of guys,” Birchard said. “I know coach (Vic) Belger was very appreciative.”
“It was a good night to see so many of the former players,” Vic Belger said. “I was glad to see them back.”
Scott Belger and Hartman concurred.
“It was nice to come down and get the win, but what I’ll remember from this is seeing the old faces, wondering what they’re doing now,” Scott Belger said. “I give all the credit to coach Birchard for getting it going.”
With Southeast Polk having full freshman and sophomore teams, the Ram JV is made up of juniors and seniors and the young Panther JV played well in a 4-2 defeat Wednesday.
Creston, now 3-2, got seven innings on the mound from freshman Brody Frain, who allowed five hits with two strikeouts and two walks.
At the plate, Creston struck out 14 times which cut down the scoring opportunities. Frain had two of the Panther hits. Others with one were Jaden Driskell, Dustin Merritt and Deaven Reese.
“Our pitching was wonderful and we played pretty well, we just couldn’t get any two-strike hitting going,” coach Ben Landers said. “That was a pretty good team. We just needed to hit a little better.”
Southeast Polk 15, Creston 1
R H E
SE Polk 172 23 — 15 11 2
Creston 001 00 — 1 4 2
SEP: Cole Hauser 2K 3BB, Zach Hamilton (3) 2K 0BB, Scott Ault (4) 4K 0BB and Cody Hyler. Cr: Nathan Haley 1K 3BB, Trevor Luther (2) 0K 3BB, Kadon Hulett (4) 2K 2BB and Chase Shiltz. W — Hauser. L— Haley. HR — SEP: Anthony Schneider, Luke Hassman. 3B — SEP: Scott Ault. 2B — SEP: T.J Fetters; Cr: Shiltz, Haley. RBI — SEP: Schneider 3, Ault 3, Fetters 2, Luke Hassman 1; Cr: Cole Crawford 1. Multiple hitters — SEP: Hassman 3, Ault 3, Fetters 2.