Bobcats can’t climb out

A stiff first jab of adversity stunned them, and a second blow sent the Marshalltown baseball team reeling.

Buoyed by an unbeaten start and the hometown holiday crowd, the Bobcats staved off the blowout and prolonged their eventual first loss of the season.

Cedar Rapids Kennedy, ranked fifth in the Class 3A preseason poll by the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association, won its seventh straight in the Memorial Day series with Marshalltown by starting fast and holding off the Bobcats 12-8. The Cougars (3-1) got plenty of help from the staggered hosts, who fell behind 10-1 after committing six errors in the first three innings but dodged Kennedy’s knockout punch.

Marshalltown (5-1) was on the brink of a run rule-shortened defeat, 12-2, but sent eight batters to the plate in the bottom of the fifth inning, scoring four times and putting forth the fight their head coach wasn’t seeing in the first four frames.

“We were three outs away from being 10-runned, and you don’t ever want to be in that position but it’s baseball and you’re going to be in that position,” Steve Hanson said. “Why we got in that position, that’s a whole different topic. But once we were there, we did in fact dig out. … Give our guys some credit for hanging and being competitive.”

Prior to that, however, the antithesis of Bobcat baseball.

“It was embarassing. It was embarassing to wear the Bobcat uniform, and that’s as much as I’d care to say about that,” Hanson said. “We didn’t pitch it well, and when we don’t pitch it well, defensively we’re worse. If you don’t pitch it … usually it doesn’t get fielded either.”

Kennedy capitalized on a pair of Bobcat errors during its six-run second inning, highlighted by leadoff hitter Matt Berst’s three-run double. The Cougars got four more in the third, fueled by four MHS miscues, and led 10-1.

Having surrendered as many runs to Kennedy as in five previous wins to start the season, the Bobcats shored up their defense as Joe Rebik took over on the mound in place of left-handers Cole Keeler and Tate Kuehner. The Cougars, however, earned two more runs on a double by Bryce Church and put MHS on the verge of a 10-run loss.

Marshalltown, cowering in the corner for much of the day, connected one counterpunch at a time to stay alive in the bottom of the fifth. Rebik doubled and Jack Greene reached on an infield single, and pinch-hitter Dru Dobbins slapped an RBI single to left. Jordan Smiley loaded the bases with a single to right, and Kody Ricken bounced a double off the fence in left to drive in a pair. Keeler’s groundout to first pushed across the fourth Marshalltown run of the at-bat and breathed life into the once deflated Bobcats.

Rebik retired the heart of the Cougars’ lineup in order in the top of the fifth, and MHS scratched out two more runs in the home half. Nate Vance reached on a fielder’s choice after Sam Rogers was hit by a pitch, and Rebik drove Vance home with a triple to straightaway center. Greene walked before pinch-hitter Miguel Torrez, in his second plate appearance this season, dribbled a run-scoring single through the right side.

That’s where Marshalltown’s uprising ended, however, as Kennedy relievers Noah Cronbaugh and Tyler Dralle closed out the win.

“[When it’s] 6-1, yeah, that changes us. [When it’s] 10-1, you’re just on the ropes, you’re just hanging on for dear life, and that’s the issue,” Hanson said. “We could survive at six but it’s really hard to breathe at 10 and any team, any time if you’re down that margin, that takes a lot of hits. We’re not an explosive-type team but we did load up some hits after that, but still that was just too big a mountain to climb at 10-1.”

Keeler sustained the loss as the Bobcat starter, allowing six runs on three hits and three walks in 1 1/3 innings. All four runs against Kuehner came unearned. Rebik was 2-for-3 with a double, a triple, two runs and an RBI, and Greene was 2-for-3 with a run scored to lead the Marshalltown bats.

Berst finished 2-for-5 with a double and five RBIs, Girling was 3-for-4 with a double, and winning pitcher Anthony Alepra helped his own cause going 3-for-4 with a double. His courtesy runner Parker Cooley scored three times.

Alepra struck out six over five innings, allowing six runs – five earned – on nine hits and one hit batter.

The Bobcats will attempt to bounce back from their first loss by going on the road for their next three doubleheaders, starting Wednesday against No. 4 West Des Moines Valley.