ATLANTIC — “They just outgunned us tonight.”
That was the observation of Creston baseball coach Steve Birchard, after his team’s postseason run came to an end in a 14-4 loss in five innings against Glenwood here Monday night.
The Panthers had five hits in taking a 3-0 lead in the top of the first inning. But Glenwood answered with six runs on five hits in the bottom half of the inning, which included an injury to Creston catcher Chase Shiltz.
Panther starting pitcher Kadon Hulett, touched for six runs on four hits along with two walks and a hit batter, replaced Shiltz just eight batters into the game as senior Brandon Phipps made his second relief appearance of the district tournament.
Ram starter Wyatt Schulz, meanwhile, allowed only more hits the rest of the way — including a solo homer by senior Trevor Luther — in settling down for his fifth victory of the season.
The Rams (23-10) had a pair of three-run homers in the game by Dru Little and Corey Bertini, who increased his season total to 14, including four in the last three games. Also, Cole Loeffelbein, Aaron Bertini and Nolan Robinson smacked doubles for the Rams, who finished with 13 hits in four frames.
“We felt good about our start, obviously, against a good pitcher,” Birchard said. “We came out swinging. But it was maybe a microcosm of the game. We got outgunned in the first inning, and it sort of continued. We didn’t keep up the pace.”
Glenwood coach Brett Elam said he “never would have dreamed this in a million years,” in discussing the 35-minute first inning with nine runs scored, after the Rams two the two regular season games by scores of 2-1 and 3-1.
“We came out and laid an egg in the top half of the first inning,” Elam said. “Creston put some good swings on some balls left out over the plate. Later Wyatt was able to throw his changeup and curveball for strikes, which helped keep them off balance.
“We responded, and that’s what it’s all about,” Elam said. “Once our bats came alive, we just kept swinging it. In that first inning, we had watched Hulett warm up in the bullpen, and we told our guys to be patient and make him throw strikes.”
Creston’s three-run first included hits by Cole Crawford and Trevor Luther, setting up a two-run double by Nate Haley. Haley later barrelled across the plate on a single to center by Phipps.
Then Hulett immediately got in trouble by issuing walks to Brady Wheeler and Cole Loeffelbein, bringing the powerful Bertini to the plate with no outs. He promptly deposited a fastball over the 345-foot sign in center field.
With the score now tied, Creston’s early momentum was deflated.
“I always harp on our kids, if we get the momentum, go out and have a quick inning to get us back in here so we can keep the momentum,” Elam said. “The worst thing you can do is get it, and hand it right back. That worked out well for us tonight, obviously.”
The bases were loaded again for Aaron Bertini, who chased two more runs home on a double to right field. Schulz also tried scoring from first, but was thrown out on a relay play from Luther to Haley to Shiltz at the plate.
However, while applying the tag, Shiltz went down with a knee injury, and after a considerable delay for treatment, he was deemed unable to continue and was replaced behind the plate by Hulett.
“It was sort of a knee-to-knee thing,” Birchard said. “He got him on the top of the knee. I think he’s OK. I don’t think it’s structural. I think it’s banged up and it buckled a little on him.”
Shiltz had pitched most of Creston’s first district win since 2008 on Friday in an 8-4 win over Winterset. He was backed by a nearly perfect defense.
But this Panther defensive effort wasn’t as sharp, with three errors to one by the Rams. Schulz also kept himself out of trouble with no bases on balls, while five Rams reached either on walks or hit by pitch.
The game ended on the 10-run mercy rule when the Rams tallied four runs in the final frame. Cole Crawford relieved Phipps after three straight batters reached base, and he retired Little on a called third strike.
But, a fielder’s choice and single were followed by a hit that softly fell into shallow center field by Kyle Mertfeld for an RBI and the 10-run margin.
Hulett was coming off an impressive outing against Chariton last week. He tossed three no-hit innings that night with no walks and four strikeouts. Such command was absent from the start Monday night.
“I didn’t expect that at all,” Birchard said. “We knew we had a short leash for anyone, but bam, it happened almost too fast to make a change. I was ready to switch it up on that last hit even if we hadn’t had the injury. Brandon came in and made some good pitches against some good people, but they also got some big hits.”
While his 14-15 team frequently played solid defense with sufficient pitching from a deep staff, the offensive production was inconsistent.
“We had several one-run games where we just didn’t get the key hit,” Birchard said. “Our offensive potency wasn’t there at times. That sort of explains what took place tonight. We can’t keep up with them hitting the ball.
“But our kids plugged away and kept playing,” Birchard added. “I’m very proud of this team. We have seven seniors who kind of kept things steady for us all year. When you sit back and look at our season, I really don’t remember a game where we just booted it around or walked 10 guys or anything like that. This (loss) may have been the closest to that, with the three errors and them hitting the ball like that.”
It’s the end of an era of sorts, as Garret Taylor, Trey Benson, Jon Birchard, Phipps, Haley, Crawford and Luther played their final game as Panthers. Luther, 3-of-3 with two runs scored Monday, homered in his final home game July 15 and his last game before joining the Midland University baseball team in the fall.
The program will transition into a young roster next year, as shortstop Conner Pals will be the lone senior on a team with no projected juniors.
“We’ll have a bunch of sophomores playing next year,” Birchard said, “but that’s a good group.”
The Rams, meanwhile, are winners of 16 of their last 18 games with hopes of gaining their first victory over Harlan on Wednesday, after dropping consecutive 7-3 games in a June 19 doubleheader.
Glenwood, which won the 3A state title in 2010, has lost to the Cyclones in each of the last three postseasons, as Harlan looks to secure its fourth straight appearance in the state tournament.
“I just hope we go out and compete from the first pitch and it’s a good game,” Elam said. “We know what they’ve got and they know what we’ve got.”
Glenwood 14, Creston 4
R H E
Creston 301 00 — 4 8 3
Glenwood 610 34 — 14 13 1
Cr: Kadon Hulett 1K 2BB, Brandon Phipps (1) 1K 2BB, Cole Crawford (5) 1K 0BB and Chase Shiltz, Hulett (1). G: Wyatt Schulz 4K 0BB and Brady Wheeler. W — Schulz (5-5). L— Hulett (0-1). HR — Cr: Trevor Luther; G: Corey Bertini, Dru Little. 2B — G: Cole Loeffelbein, Aaron Bertini, Nolan Robinson. RBI — Cr: Nate Haley 2, Trevor Luther 1, Brandon Phipps 1; G: Corey Bertini 3, Dru Little 3, Aaron Bertini 2, Cob Baker 1, Wyatt Schulz 1, Kyle Mertfeld 1, Nolan Robinson 1. Multiple hitters — Cr: Luther 3, Phipps 2; G: Bertini 3, Schulz 3, Little 2.