’Cats are back

MHS beats Iowa City High to advance to state

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE - The Marshalltown baseball team piles on in celebration of its Class 4A Substate 3 victory over Iowa City High, 9-2, on Wednesday night at the MHS diamond. The Bobcats qualified for the state tournament for the first time since back-to-back appearances in 2008 and 2009.

It’s real easy to follow the lead of a teammate who once drove the green of the par-4, sudden-death playoff hole to make an eagle put and win a state golf championship.

The Bobcats charged up the hill behind senior left-hander Nate Vance and reached their destination for the first time since 2009.

Vance went the distance on the mound and the Marshalltown High School baseball team will make the trip to Principal Park in Des Moines as a result after beating Iowa City High 9-2 in Wednesday’s Class 4A Substate 3 championship game at the MHS diamond.

State tournament pairings will be released today. All 4A quarterfinal games are scheduled for Wednesday, July 25.

The Bobcats (20-18) benefitted from a stunning upset of top-seeded Southeast Polk by Waterloo West in Friday’s first round of substate play and gained a bye to the finals, capitalizing on the opportunity to lean on their top pitcher without playing a game in between. Vance helped seal the deal, finishing three pitches shy of the state-mandated limit by striking out Zach Kuepker and Jacob Dykes consecutive to end the game.

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE - MHS head baseball coach Steve Hanson (25) gets doused with ice water by seniors Nate Vance, left, and Sam Irwin following the Bobcats’ 9-2 victory over Iowa City High.

After standing alone on the mound for all 14 innings of the postseason, Vance was suddently at the bottom of a pile of Bobcats celebrating the program’s first trip to state since back-to-back appearances in 2008 and 2009.

“I couldn’t have dreamed of a better ending to a senior year,” said Vance. “I was sitting in the locker room and I almost started crying before the game started just thinking this was going to be the last time playing here. But our goal at the beginning of the season was to play at Principal Park, and once we get there everything is just icing on the cake.

“It’s a dream come true, for sure.”

Marshalltown will be playing in the program’s 12th state tournament — and the third since the event left Marshalltown and Carroll for the home of the Iowa Cubs. Head coach Steve Hanson calmly stood there as Vance and fellow senior Sam Irwin doused him with ice water during the postgame celebration, recognizing the fortitude of what will be his seventh state tournament team.

“It’s great, great for our guys,” said Hanson. “The thing that makes it very rewarding is that if you go around the diamond and investigate the number of surgeries we had in the offseason, you’ll see many of the hurdles that those guys have been through just to get on the field.

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON - Marshalltown senior batterymates Kody Ricken, left, and Nate Vance converge in celebration as junior third baseman Wade Canaday (31) joins in at the conclusion of Wednesday’s Class 4A substate baseball game at the MHS diamond.

“The struggles that we had midseason that were caused by Urbandale, Johnston, those sorts of teams that can put you in a little bit of a tailspin — who also qualified [for state] tonight — you’ve got to be pretty thick-skinned to just keep coming back.”

Long forgotten during the postgame celebration was the seven-game losing streak that Marshalltown endured late in the season, the offensive woes that gripped the Bobcat bats and the 11-2 start that boosted MHS into the state rankings for three weeks in a row.

There in the middle of the team photograph at the end of the game was the state qualifier banner, and all those things it quietly represented.

“The amount of time that we spend with this group of guys is unbelievable,” said Vance. “You create a bond and you have such a common goal that when you do finish something like that, it’s just an unbelievable feeling to have a senior year like this in Marshalltown.”

The ballgame that prompted the celebration started with the Bobcats scoring a run in the bottom of the first inning, two more in the second and two more in the third. With Vance on the mound and a five-run lead, Marshalltown was poised for more postseason baseball.

T-R PHOTO BY ADAM RING - The Marshalltown baseball team erupts in celebration after taking photographs with its new state baseball tournament qualifier banner on Wednesday night at the MHS diamond. The Bobcats beat Iowa City High 9-2 to advance to Des Moines next week.

Vance led off the bottom of the first with a walk, taking Iowa City High lefty Ry Threlkeld-Wiegand to a full count before taking the free pass to first base. Sam Irwin’s sacrifice bunt was bobbled by Threlkeld-Wiegand and he reached safely, moving up moments later on Dru Dobbins’ swinging bunt in front of the plate.

Wade Canaday, the team’s second-leading RBI guy, drove a fly ball to center field that was plenty deep for Vance to score the game’s first run uncontested.

In the second, Joseph Harris was hit by a pitch, Tate Kuehner singled, Dylan Eygabroad walked to load the bases and Vance singled to left for a 2-0 lead. One out later, Dobbins walked to force home a run, and Threlkeld-Wiegand’s night on the mound was ubruptly over.

Kody Ricken led off the third with a single down the left-field line, Harris was plunked again, and Luke Appel’s bunt bounced to uncovered territory in the Little Hawks’ defensive scheme to load the bases again. Kuehner was grazed by an Evan Jones offering to force home another run, and Eygabroad blooped in a single to shallow center field to plate pinch-runner Wyatt Himes for a 5-0 Marshalltown advantage.

“We had a really good plan going into tonight, because on different occassions our assistant coaches had gone and watched Iowa City High, so we had a very thorough plan,” Hanson said. “That was a huge key in getting this thing right. The other huge key was we had Nate Vance, and when Vance is on the mound he’s a very competitive guy who’s also a very intelligent guy, and when he can do what he wants to do like he did for a better part of the game it makes it really tough to score and when we don’t kick the ball around it makes it even more difficult to score.”

T-R PHOTO BY ADAM RING

The Bobcats didn’t commit an error behind Vance, who struck out five and walked two. The Little Hawks (24-18) got runners on base in every inning but didn’t break through until back-to-back, two-out hits by Sam Lewers and Cole Milder in the top of the sixth made Vance pay for his leadoff walk to Kuepker.

The Bobcats responded in kind, coming up with four runs in the home half thanks to Irwin’s leadoff bunt single, an intentional walk to Canaday, Ricken’s RBI double down the third-base line and a run-scoring single by Harris through a drawn-in infield. Appel’s sacrifice fly plated another, and Kuehner’s flare to right field forced home Marshalltown’s ninth and final run.

In all, MHS and Iowa City High both had nine hits, but the Little Hawks’ four pitches walked a combined four batters and hit three more.

Iowa City High entered the game having issued 221 total walks against 189 strikeouts in 273 2/3 innings this season.

Vance wasn’t quite as dominant in some of his previous starts this summer, but he was good enough to help MHS get through to next week’s state tournament.

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON

“Vance is a really tough guy, you couldn’t have anybody better on the mound,” said Ricken, the team’s primary catcher. “I trust him to be in any position, if we were down a run or tied, two runners on, I trust Vance to be out there.”

Ricken and Kuehner both had two hits to pace Marshalltown, while Travis Reyhons and Ben Steve had two hits apiece for the Little Hawks, who were in search of their first state tournament berth since 2003.

“We gave them a lot of opportunities early on,” said City High head coach Brian Mitchell. “That set the tone. We probably didn’t pitch as well as we would have hoped, made a few mistakes.”

Marshalltown prepared for Threlkeld-Wiegand from Friday on, getting batting practice thrown by left-handed assistant coaches Colton Hanke, Cole Keeler and Jeff Hoogensen.

“We knocked the lefty around a little bit and took advantage of some things,” Hanson said. “Our preparation was really good in the last week and since we didn’t play Monday we were able to practice, and practice helps cure some ills.

“I think more than anything else the guys were ready to play, they were very excited about being here, they knew the plan was a good one and they set their chins and went out and executed. And when you’re following Vance down the hill it’s a pretty easy trip.”

Marshalltown 9, Iowa City High 2

At Marshalltown

ICH 000 002 0 — 2 9 2

MHS 122 004 X — 9 9 0

Ry Threlkeld-Wiegand, EvanJones (2), Jacob Dykes (3), Quenton Max (6) and Liam McComas; Nate Vance and Kody Ricken. W–Vance (9-2). L–Threlkeld-Wiegand (7-4). 2B–ICH: McComas, Cole Milder, DJ Heck; MHS: Ricken. LOB–ICH 8, MHS 9.