—by Todd Thorson

(tthorson@storycityherald.com)

The magnificent ride for the Roland-Story boys came to an end last Thursday night (August 1), as the top-rated and defending state champions Beckman-Dyersville Trailblazers rolled past the Norse 13-2 in five innings in the 2A state baseball semifinals held at Principal Park in Des Moines. After a promising first inning, in which the Norsemen took a 2-0 lead, the Trailblazers managed to tie the game at 2-2 in the bottom of the second. From that point on, it was all Beckman-Dyersville, as they plated five more runs in the third and six in the fourth. After the Norsemen failed to score in the top of the fifth, the game ended under the 10-run rule in favor of the Trailblazers. It was a disappointing finish to the season for the Norsemen, yet a rewarding and promising one looking forward.

"What a great showing," said a somber Coach Chris Hill following the Norsemen’s setback. "It didn’t end up the way we wanted it to, but I couldn’t be more proud of our guys. We get some time now, and then we’ll keep the excitement going into next year. It’s been a memorable year, (with) a lot of great memories."

Once the Trailblazers settled in following one trip through the lineup, they began smashing singles almost one after the other. All totaled they banged out 13 hits, including three doubles. Seven of their 13 hits came in the five-run third, including five in a row at one point.

"We got hit!" stated Coach Hill. "W knew these last couple of teams were going to be good. Tonight, we just got hit!"

It was an exciting beginning, however, for the Norsemen, and their fans, as they came out in the first inning ready to play ball. Zach Hovick led off with a single to right. After Zach stole second, and Tyler Hovick popped out to second, Evan Johnson blooped a single down the right field line. With the throw coming into the first baseman from right field, Zach was able to score on the play, and Evan proceeded on to second base. A passed ball moved Evan to third, and with two outs, Alex Muhlenburg stepped to the plate and delivered a 1-1 pitch for an RBI single and a 2-0 Norsemen lead.

With the Roland-Story crowd still buzzing, Zach took to the hill and promptly retired three B-D batters in a row to end the inning.

Coach Hill was impressed with the start as well, right along with the fans and players. "What an exciting memory for our guys to have in that first inning; jumping out (early) and showing they could do it."

Zach singled again in the top of the third, and looked like he would score again, stealing second and getting sacrificed to third. But two flyouts ended the Norsemen’s scoring threat.

Following a single and a sacrifice bunt to start the Trailblazers’ bottom of the third, five consecutive hits, including back-to-back doubles, scored a total of five runs. Zach, the Norsemen’s ace pitcher, was relieved on the mound after B-D scored the go-ahead run on back-to-back singles following a sacrifice bunt. Colton Finley and Riley Ellis came on in relief to try and stop the bleeding, but to no avail. Eleven Trailblazers came to the plate in the third, and their scoring spree was also aided by a hit batter and a walk.

"Zach felt good, he just got hit," commented Hill. "It started to not matter who we had out there. They’re a darn good hitting baseball team. They didn’t get here by accident."

Riley started the fourth inning, but after walking two batters and giving up a single, he was relieved by Evan Johnson. Three more walks, a wild pitch, a stolen base and two singles put six more runs on the board for Beckman-Dyersville. For the second inning in a row, 11 batters came to the plate in yet another offensive explosion.

With the damage done, and disappointment starting to rear its ugly head, the Norse could have just rolled over and played dead. But they didn’t. Back-to-back singles by Charlie Steenhagen and Zach Hovick kept the Norsemen’s heads held high, as they gave a "never-say-die" attitude to their final at bat. Hard smashes by Cole Birchmier and Tyler Hovick right to the first baseman, and a hard grounder to second, ended the threat and the ball game.

Coach Hill praised his team’s tough and dedicated play in that final inning: "That’s been our mentality all year. They’ve got a lot of fight, and they never give in. They fight until it’s over. Even though the game was getting pretty far out of hand, they just didn’t want it to end. They worked hard trying to make sure it didn’t end. A couple of line drives went to guys (unfortunately)."

The Norsemen collected six hits – three by Zach Hovick, who was, incidentally just named a second team all-2A state selection by the Iowa Newspaper Association. Evan Johnson, Alex Muhlenburg and Charlie Steenhagen had the other hits. Muhlenburg also started behind the plate for the Norsemen for the first time in weeks, after an injury earlier this season sidelined his catching duties.

Adam Noethe, who also went the distance on the mound for B-D, led the Trailblazer offense as well, going 3 for 3, including a double. Mike Boeckenstedt, Connor Klostermann and Todd Engelken each had two hits.

Following the game, the Norsemen and Trailblazers congratulated each other in a nice showing of sportsmanship at home plate. The Norse were then awarded their state participation trophy, which they promptly and proudly hoisted above their heads and walked over to their fans along the third base dugout.

"What a great showing," added Coach Hill, as he too acknowledged the wonderful Norsemen faithful, who out-numbered even the top ranked and perennial power Beckman-Dyersville fans.

Coach Hill also could not say enough about his five seniors on this year’s squad, Riley Ellis, Evan Johnson, Brody Concannon, Colton Finley and Charlie Steenhagen, praising them with these fine words:

"I have to thank our seniors; five guys that stuck it out. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have role players (like them) in order to have a run like we had, and to get as far as we did. We don’t do this without those five seniors. I couldn’t be more thankful for what they’ve done for this year being a success. The tone they have set, for this baseball program going forward. They went through a lot of road blocks. They’re going to be able to look back in the years to come and realize they were the start of something really good."

Beckman-Dyersville went on to win their fifth state championship by defeating North Polk 2-1 in the title game on Saturday. The Trailblazers scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh on bases loaded walks to down the Comets for the second consecutive year in the championship game. Roland-Story bowed out of the tournament with a 28-14 record. The 28 wins is a new school record, and raises the bar for future Norse teams to aspire to.

Congratulations to the 2013 Roland-Story baseball team! You brought pride and excitement to all of us in Roland and Story City, and will be remembered for many years to come.