Just in time.
The Creston baseball team seems to have turned around its fortunes in one-run games with the district tournament on the horizon.
The Panthers entered the week with a 1-8 record in one-run games. Creston wrapped up its regular season with victories of 5-4 over ADM Monday and 2-1 over Chariton (17-17) Tuesday to close the Panther Field careers of seven senior players.
Creston, 13-14 in the regular season with the 3-8 record in games with the narrowest of margins, opens Class 3A district play at 5 p.m. Friday at Atlantic against Winterset, which ends its regular season tonight against league rival Perry. The Huskies improved to 19-7 Tuesday with an 11-1 victory over ADM.
Regardless of Creston’s relative record, coach Steve Birchard said his team has shown the ability to knock off quality teams, including a split with Hawkeye 10 champ and sixth-ranked Harlan, the substate’s top-seeded team.
“After getting swept by Lewis Central (Thursday), I feared that two games was not enough to get the confidence back and go with it,” Birchard said. “But with our defensive performance and pitching the past two nights, I think we’re back. If we can hit the ball, that’s the key for us. I’m feeling like it will take a good team with a good effort to beat us.”
Certainly there’s plenty of incentive on this senior-laden team to mount a strong playoff run.
One of those seven seniors, Trevor Luther, was the catalyst Monday night. He hit his first home run of the season to establish a 1-0 lead in the first inning, got the pitching decision in a two-inning relief effort despite having to pitch out of a jam in the fourth, and scored the team’s other run on a double by fellow senior Nate Haley in the bottom of the fourth.
“We wanted to go out the right way at home and we did,” Luther said. “We’ve had a lot of one-run games this year. It was nice to get another one. Going into the Winterset game, we know we can beat them. Harlan is the number one seed, and we beat them and lost by one. We have just as good a chance as anyone in the substate.”
Luther swung on a high fastball by Chariton lefthanded starter Andrew Palmer and sent it high over the center field fence for a solo homer with two outs in the first inning.
In the top of the fourth he reached on an infield error, and scored on a double by Nate Haley that took a high hop over Charger center fielder Jon Lazar. Haley was then out trying to get to third base on the play.
The Panthers had only five hits, with two of them by Luther, who also stole a base in the sixth inning but was left stranded on second.
Pitching was the strength of this Panther victory. Freshmen Chase Shiltz and Kadon Hulett combined with Luther to hurl a one-hitter.
Shiltz, Friday’s likely starter, pitched the first two innings with no runs and no hits allowed, with a pair of strikeouts and one walk.
Luther stranded two baserunners who reached on walks in the third when he fanned No. 3 batter Brett Braida.
He encountered more trouble in the fourth when the Chargers tied it at 1-1. The bases were loaded on a single, walk and error by Luther on a bunt. A wild pitch scored Austin Ritenour and Luther again loaded the bases with another walk.
Then his defense bailed him out, with fellow seniors playing key roles. Center fielder Cole Crawford ran in to catch a liner in shallow center hit by Drew Derringer, and threw to Jon Birchard at second base to double off Aaron Cain. The inning ended on a groundball to Birchard.
Luther got the decision as he scored the go-ahead run in the bottom of the fourth.
Hulett then came on to pitch the final three innings and was perfect, retiring nine in order including four by strikeouts. Shortstop Conner Pals made two plays in the seventh inning to finish with three assists.
“Hulett looked really good tonight and Shiltz regained some form,” Birchard said. “Now I’m thinking Chase Friday night with Kadon right behind him if we have any trouble. We’ll worry about Monday when it comes. We have about five guys all about the same and I feel pretty good about using any of them.”
Seniors playing on Panther Field for the final time were Luther, Crawford, Birchard, Haley, Brandon Phipps, Garrett Taylor and Trey Benson.
Creston’s JV wrapped up a 13-7 season with a 7-6 victory over Chariton.
Brenden McDowell pitched 5 1/3 innings with three hits allowed, six strikeouts and three walks. Colton Bolinger got the save with 2/3 of an inning including a strikeout and one hit with no walks.
Will Gordon drove in two runs for the Panthers. Cody Crawford had a double and RBI, Dalton O’Riley hit a double and finishing with two hits each were Bolinger and Brody Frain. One of Frain’s hits was a double.
“The last two games our hitting was nice,” Creston coach Ben Landers said. “Throughout the season, our pitching was good enough to keep us in games, even if we weren’t hitting great. They played well, especially for a bunch of freshmen and eighth-graders playing JV.”
The same group split two games Friday against the Chariton freshmen. McDowell pitched the 6-1 victory and helped his cause with two hits and an RBI. Jaden Driskell had two hits and two RBI in the 10-6 loss. Gavin Woods pitched for the Panthers.
Creston 2, Chariton 1
R H E
Chariton 000 100 0 — 1 1 2
Creston 100 100 x — 2 5 1
Ch: Charlie Palmer 4K 0BB, Aaron Cain (3) 2K 1BB, Kobey Riechmann (5) 2K 0BB and Austin Ritenour. Cr: Chase Shiltz 2K 1BB, Trevor Luther (3) 2K 4BB, Kadon Hulett (5) 4K 0BB and Jaden Driskell. W — Luther. L— Cain. HR — Cr: Luther. 2B — Cr: Nate Haley. RBI — Cr: Luther 1, Haley 1. Multiple hitters — Cr: Luther 2.