West Marshall left wanting more
Trojans tripped up by No. 8 Van Meter in state tournament qualifier
The last thing West Marshall could afford was to help an offense that hasn’t needed any assistance finding home plate this season.
Eighth-ranked Van Meter made the most of the opportunities it created for itself and the ones West Marshall reluctantly handed it, and the Bulldogs locked up their third state tournament berth in the last five years with an 8-0 victory over the Trojans in the Class 2A Substate 7 final on Tuesday night at Marshalltown High School.
Van Meter (30-4), which lost one-run games in the substate finals each of the last two seasons, escaped a bases-loaded jam in the top of the third inning and broke free from West Marshall (29-7) in the bottom half. The Trojans were all too gracious, allowing four unearned runs on a pair of two-out errors with runners on base.
In all, the Trojans committed four errors, walked a total of eight batters and surrendered six unearned runs to the top-scoring team in 2A. Van Meter, averaging 10.7 runs per game, made it stand up behind junior right-hander Anthony Lowman, who scattered four hits and two walks over six innings for the win.
Lowman and Drew Gordon, who retired the Trojans in order in the seventh, teamed up to shut out West Marshall for the first time all summer.
“Anytime you can shut out a team, especially a team that scores as well as West Marshall does, start to finish our defense was pretty solid,” said Van Meter head coach Mike Kennedy. “You’ll take a shutout against anybody, and against a team the caliber of West Marshall that’s obviously an extra bonus.”
The third inning proved to be a microcosm of the whole game, and that wasn’t the way West Marshall was going to get back to the state tournament for the first time since 1999.
“It’s disappointing when you don’t play your best game,” said Trojans head coach Jerod Brown. “Tonight in all three aspects of the game — pitching, defensively and at the plate — we didn’t play our best, but that happens from time to time and it will. That’s to take no credit away from Van Meter, they played a very good game, they put us in some tough spots, had a really good approach at the plate, and didn’t expand the strike zone and that put us in some spots they took advantage of.”
West Marshall senior righty Ross Randall (6-1) suffered his first loss of the summer, allowing eight runs — two earned — on six hits and five walks over 3 2/3 innings. He struck out three, but was plagued by untimely errors and uncharacteristic walks. Falling behind in the count appeared to be the culprit, according to Brown.
“He wasn’t spotting up as well,” Brown said. “As important as putting the free runners on would be getting behind in counts — 3-1, 2-0, 1-0. Van Meter did a really nice job of taking advantage of those things. When they got in hitters’ counts — they didn’t have a ton of hits — they took advantage of it, so credit to them.”
Connor Guess ripped a one-out double over center fielder David Disney’s leaping attempt to start Van Meter’s eruption in the third, and JJ Durflinger singled back up the middle to drive in Guess ahead of Disney’s heave home. Gordon drew a walk, Lowman singled to load the bases, but Randall induced a flyout to shallow center.
The Trojans seemed to be stemming the tide until a throwing error on Carson Rhodes’ grounder and a high fly ball off the bat of Brady O’Brien into shallow center field fell to the turf, allowing four Bulldog baserunners to race around and score.
West Marshall’s offense, averaging 8.3 runs per game this year, could not respond, and Van Meter broke it open even further its next time up to chase Randall from the mound. Cody Mead relieved and did not allow a hit over the final 2 1/3 innings, but the damage had already been done.
“The Randall kid is obviously one of the best pitchers in the state,” Kennedy said. “We knew he was going to throw with velocity, he had a good curveball, so we just had to put it in play and take advantage of any opportunities we had. We were just fortunate to work ahead in the count.”
Durflinger finished with three of Van Meter’s six hits, scoring twice, and Guess’s double was the Bulldogs’ lone extra-base hit. But Lowman (6-0), who hadn’t allowed more than one run in his six previous starts this season, kept his streak going into next week’s state tournament. He struck out six and handcuffed a Trojan lineup that had only scored four runs or fewer 10 times prior to Tuesday night.
“[Lowman] did a really nice job, he kept us off-balance with his pitches,” said Brown. “I thought we expanded the strike zone a lot tonight, and we kind of got away from our approach, which we’ve been good at this season. We’ve really improved as a team hitting from start to finish and from last year, but our approach faltered in some different moments tonight. We helped him out but he did an excellent job too.”
Of West Marshall’s four hits, Mead had half of them. He had a single in the second and a double in the sixth, and he struck out two and walked three in relief of Randall over the last 2 1/3 innings of the Trojans’ season. Cameron Bannister and Disney hit two-out singles in the third and Alex Dickey walked to load the bases, but Lowman escaped to give the Bulldogs enough momentum to score first in their ensuing at-bat.
Mead, Disney, Randall and Chandler Sponseller said their farewells after the loss, with Brown pointing to the legacy his four seniors will leave behind.
“Our four seniors have really meant a lot to our program,” he said. “I think the tone they set for our program in January and moving forward really was the biggest factor in our success this year. We talked about leaving a legacy: school record for wins, the first district championship since 1999 and an undefeated conference season in which we never trailed. Those are all things that are hard to do and you don’t see on a routine basis, so we talked about legacy and they’re really the biggest credits to doing that this season.”
Van Meter 8, West Marshall 0
W.Marshall 000 000 0 — 0 4 4
Van Meter 005 300 X — 8 6 0
Ross Randall, Cody Mead (4) and Josh Larsen; Anthony Lowman, Drew Gordon (7) and Carson Rhodes. W–Lowman (6-0). L–Randall (6-1). 2B–WM: Mead; VM: Connor Guess. LOB–WM 6, VM 8.