Bobcats tame Tigers in playoff opener
The most prolific home run hitter in high school baseball gave the Marshalltown baseball team a few pointers, and every time his alma mater managed to apply his wisdom it meant big things for the Bobcats.
MHS junior catcher Will Van Buren connected for his first-career home run, and his solo shot in the second inning proved to be all the Bobcats would need to win their postseason opener 3-0 over Cedar Falls on Friday night at the MHS diamond.
Senior pitchers Tate Kuehner and Wade Canaday combined on a two-hit shutout, racking up 10 strikeouts and only two total walks as Marshalltown (23-17) advanced through its Class 4A Substate 3 opener in uneasy fashion.
MHS committed four errors and had only five hits, struggling to play “Bobcat baseball” as it’s known. Fortunately enough, 2002 Marshalltown graduate Jeff Clement loaned the team some tips that paid dividends at the right times, according to head coach Steve Hanson.
Van Buren squared up a fastball from Cedar Falls starting pitcher Zachary Neese and bounced it off the top of the left-field fence and over for the icebreaking run in the bottom of the second inning. Carson Williams stepped in and scalded a double down the left field line, eventually scoring on a grounder off the bat of Brendan Bates, and the 2-0 cushion was enough for Kuehner and Canaday on the mound.
“Honestly that’s something we worked on, that’s something we in fact called upon the services of Jeff Clement to help us with,” said Hanson, “an approach against that type of pitcher and we worked for three days on it. … I think that’s just an example of some hard work paying off.
“Van Buren jumped a ball, Carson Williams then jumped a ball. We didn’t swing it badly, we didn’t swing it great, but we swung it good enough.”
Though it was only three runs worth of support, it all seemed ample with the way Kuehner and Canaday cruised on the mound. Kuehner struck out seven, walked one and hit a batter in 4 2/3 innings before exiting at 63 pitches to preserve his availability for Monday’s substate semifinal at Southeast Polk (28-13). The second-seeded Rams rallied past Cedar Rapids Kennedy for a 4-2 victory in their opening-round game, while top-seeded Ankeny Centennnial outlasted Waterloo West 4-2. The Jaguars (28-13) receive a bye and will host Wednesday’s substate final.
Canaday finished off the fifth for Kuehner in the same fashion he left it, recording a fourth-consecutive strikeout before surrendering the first Cedar Falls hit in the top of the sixth. No. 9 hitter Jackson Steffener led off with a grounder through the right side that glanced off the outstretched glove of a diving effort by second baseman Bennett Hageman.
A two-out error in the top of the seventh prolonged the inning long enough for Tanner Schiefelbein to record the Tigers’ second hit, a single to left, but Canaday retired the potential tying run at the plate as pinch-hitter Caiden Barnett went down on three-straight strikes.
Cedar Falls (15-22) managed to move only two baserunners as far as third, while Marshalltown struggled to maneuver its runners around with the small-ball style it is known for.
Once Van Buren and Williams got the Bobcats started in the bottom of the second, Dru Dobbins hit a grounder that forced a Cedar Falls error and Bates’ grounder back to the mound drove in the second run for Marshalltown when the Tigers were unable to turn a double play.
The only other hard-hit ball by the Bobcats was Joseph Harris’ RBI double to right-center field in the third. Kuehner led off with a walk, moved up on a sacrifice bunt by Dylan Eygabroad and scored on Harris’ gap shot one out later.
“That was an excellent job,” said Hanson. “We have not been good executing in situations like that but Dylan did a really nice job moving Kuehner up and … bang, yeah, that ball (by Harris) was well struck, so there’s another example of a guy jumping a fastball and Joseph has that ability.
“We’ve got a few guys in the order who can swing it OK and they did at times.”
After Harris’ run-scoring double, Van Buren got a swinging-bunt single and Williams was hit by a pitch to load the bases, but Neese wriggled free by getting the final out. His successor, Max Steinlage, was just as fortunate to escape a jam he created in the bottom of the fourth when he walked pinch-hitter Nick Rebik and a throwing error allowed Blake Trowbridge to reach safely on his sacrifice bunt.
With Kuehner at the plate, Rebik was gunned down trying to advance to third before Kuehner reached on a dropped pop-up. Eygabroad got another bunt down and Canaday walked to load the bases again, but Steinlage got Harris to fly out to left to end the threat.
Marshalltown had two more on with only one out in the fifth, but a low looper slipped through second baseman Mitchell Young’s sliding attempt to catch it and the Tigers turned a double play instead.
“How many runs could we have scored? Twenty-eight,” shrugged Hanson. “You don’t know, so we have to be better in that situation because the teams that we’re going to play moving forward are too good. You can’t blow yourself up. It’s a hard enough game, let alone you take yourself out of stuff.”
None of it rattled the Bobcat pitchers, however, as Kuehner left with a no-hitter after 63 pitches and Canaday kept the Tigers off the scoreboard for 2 1/3 innings of relief in spite of the four errors committed by the defense.
Canaday, too, will be available for Monday’s substate semifinal.
“Our plan going in was to utilize both of those guys for about 65 pitches so they’d both be eligible on Monday and Kuehner did a great job of stretching that into the fifth inning, and without a dropped third strike he’s out of the fifth inning clean,” said Hanson, “so there’s another example of giving an extra out.
“We couldn’t have asked for any more than that, to get pretty much five complete and turn it over to Canaday. That’s good for us. If we can put it in that situation then we like our chances.”
Van Buren was the only player with two hits, while Harris and Williams had doubles and Dobbins added a fifth-inning single.
Neese took the loss for Cedar Falls, allowing three runs — two earned — on four hits, one walk, one hit batsman and two strikeouts.
Marshalltown moves on to meet a Southeast Polk team it took three of four from during CIML Iowa Conference play. One of those was a forfeit after the Rams used an illegal pitcher in a game they eventually won 7-1.
“This time of year that’s all you can ask for, so yeah we won, but we know moving forward we’ve got to be better than we were tonight,” added Hanson. “We just do, that’s simple. Our guys know that and we have two days to prepare and try to get better.”
Marshalltown 3, Cedar Falls 0
CF 000 000 0 — 0 2 3
MHS 021 000 X — 3 5 4
Zachary Neese, Max Steinlage (4), Tate Johnson (5) and Casey Sole; Tate Kuehner, Wade Canaday (5) and Will Van Buren. W–Kuehner (5-4). L–Neese (3-6). 2B–MHS: Joseph Harris, Carson Williams. HR–MHS: Van Buren (1). LOB–CF 5, MHS 8.