ALLEMAN - North Polk represents the next level the Trojans are trying to reach.
And while West Marshall looked every bit the Comets' equal through four and a half innings Saturday, the next two proved there's still some separation to close.
Jumping on seven free passes - including five hit batsmen - and cranking out five hits in its last two at-bats, Class 2A No. 2-ranked North Polk broke open a tie game with two runs in the fifth and six more in the sixth in an 11-3 victory in the District 13 final.
T-R PHOTO BY TYLER STRAND
West Marshall senior Justin Weitzell is tagged out by North Polk catcher Grant Schlitz in the second inning of the Class 2A District 13 final in Alleman. Weitzell is one of just three seniors graduating from this year’s squad.
The Comets (25-4) sent 11 batters to the dish in their last go-round and quickly put relief pitcher Jared Riemenschneider and the Trojans in a bind after the first out of the frame. Two beaned batters followed by an intentional walk loaded the bases for Russell Greene's sacrifice fly that gave North Polk a 6-3 advantage and seemed to wake up the bats.
Consecutive RBI singles from Brandon Cory, Jacob Hadaway and Wyatt Houge stretched the margin to 10-3 as Hogue's run-scoring hit to left field plated another runner when the Trojans misplayed the ball in the outfield.
Fittingly enough, Grant Lang, who changed the tone of the contest on the hill, capped the six-run surge with an RBI-double to chase Riemenschneider after 2/3 of an inning.
"We opened the door, made a few mistakes and they took advantage of them," West Marshall coach Jerod Brown said of Comets' late push.
"They're a great team and have a great shot to make some noise at state and maybe even win it this year. You open a door, give them some freebies and a good team is going to take advantage of that."
West Marshall took advantage of a fatigued Cole Jackson to claim a 3-0 lead after two innings, chasing the Comets' hurler after just 1 2/3 frames. Jared Johnson drove in Dylan Petermeier with a single and Riemenschneider also scored on the play on a passed ball. Petermeier and Riemenschneider each singled, before Nolan Sinning was hit by a pitch, though the Trojans missed an opportunity to tack on another run when Sinning was caught in a rundown on a missed suicide squeeze attempt.
Petermeier plated Cody Berns in the second, though North Polk limited the damage by throwing out Weitzell at the plate on the ensuing play.
After the sprinklers along the third base line went off and briefly stopped play in the bottom of the third, the Comets offense started to spray hits on cue. Reed Smith drove in a run with the third single of the inning, before Greene drove another across with a sacrifice fly to trim the Trojans' lead to one.
"Nolan (Sinning) pitched a good game early - we were underneath the ball and lifting fly balls," North Polk coach Dave Middleton said.
"We were able to let our top hand be our top hand and drive some baseballs. ... It's one of those things where it kind of became contagious and we took advantage of it."
Houge doubled to deep center in the fourth and scored on Lang's RBI single to knot the game, before Lang continued to stifle the West Marshall batters with two more strikeouts in the fifth.
Lang (6-1) earned the win and tossed 5 1/3 innings of scoreless ball with seven strikeouts and one hit. Jacob Hadaway replaced Lang in the sixth after the Trojans opened with a Matt Van Metre walk, a Berns single and a Ross Randall sacrifice bunt, though Hadaway fanned the next two batters before Lang came back to escape a bases loaded jam in the seventh.
Hadaway fanned both batters he faced, while Jackson surrendered three runs (two earned) on four hits, one hit batsmen and two walks.
Sinning (6-1) gave up five runs on six hits, four hit batsmen and a strikeout in five innings. Riemenschneider allowed six runs (five earned) on five hits, two beaned batters and a walk in 2/3 of an inning.
North Polk advances to play Interstate 35 (15-11) in the Substate 7 final at Dowling Catholic on Tuesday at 7 p.m. The Roadrunners defeated Nodaway Valley (13-14), by a score of 13-12 in Truro Saturday.
The Trojans - coming off an NICL West Championship - return 17 of 20 starters next season as they take another crack at trying to move past the state's elite.
"You can see the emotion on the guys' faces and it's because they're invested. That's the reason it hurts so much," Brown said of his squad after the season-ending loss.
"It's focusing on taking that next step. North Polk is kind of the gold standard in Class 2A in Central Iowa. We keep trying to knock that door down. We fell short this year, but we'll have the same goals next year and prepare for that."
While the quality of opponent didn't ease the pain, it helped put the game and season in perspective for the Trojans.
"This the first time playing in the district championship in my five years on this team - and the second or third conference championship. ... there's not much more you can ask for," said Weitzell, one of three graduating seniors.
"If there's a team I would want to get beat by, it's (North Polk) because I have a lot of respect for these guys in every sport. They're a great hitting team that's well coached."
North Polk defeated West Marshall 9-4 on July 2 in Alleman. The Comets finished runner-up in last year's state tournament. ... West Marshall graduates three seniors in Riemenschneider, Weitzell and Garrett Goodwin. ... Middleton sees big things for the Trojans looking ahead, saying, "They've got some younger guys that are going to be factors in their conference and in 2A baseball as time goes on." ... Jackson, who fanned 13 batters and allowed one hit against the Trojans in their previous meeting, was coming off a 75-pitch effort on Tuesday in a 10-inning game against Des Moines Christian.