—by Todd Thorson
The Norsemen boys saw their longest losing streak of the season reach three games before getting back on track Saturday at the Waterloo Bucks Tournament. Having lost 5 of 6 heading into the weekend, the Norse suffered through their toughest stretch of the season last week, dropping games to Gilbert, Nevada and Van Meter; all on the heels of two losses at the Brent Prange Classic the weekend before. But the caliber of competition wasn’t anything to sneeze at, as all of the Norsemen’s losses have come at the hands of some rather strong ball clubs. Following their split of six games last week, the Norse, who dropped to #6 in the 2A rankings, now stand at 23-11 overall and 9-7 in the HOIAC, with three games left to add to those totals. Adding some consolation to the Norsemen’s tough stretch was the fact that their 23 wins set a new school record at Roland-Story.
Gilbert 3, R-S 2 (8 inn.)
In an exciting game, Gilbert exacted some revenge on the Norse, slipping past their hosts in extra innings 3-2 last Monday night (July 1) in Story City. In what turned out to be hard-fought pitchers’ duel, the Norsemen missed several opportunities that otherwise may have turned the tide in their favor. The Tigers scored the tying run in the sixth and then went ahead 3-2 with another run in the eighth, and then held on for the one-run victory.
Despite getting tagged with the loss, pitcher Colton Finley went 7 1/3 innings and allowed only two earned runs, one hit, struck out seven and walked four. Zach Hovick finished the eighth by getting the last two outs without allowing any runs, and giving up just one hit.
"I was really impressed with Colton tonight," said Coach Chris Hill. "He has stepped up in a big way for us on the mound. We have had some injuries to (some of our) pitchers and he has filled in nicely."
The Norse scored their two runs in the fourth after Gilbert had taken a 1-0 lead in the top of the third. Riley Ellis led off the fourth with a single and went to second when Evan Johnson walked. Tyler Hovick then loaded the bases with a single. Andrew Schlatter drew a walk that brought Ellis into score. Cole Birchmier followed with a single past the shortstop, bringing in Johnson, and the Norse led 2-1.
Collecting hits for the Norse were Zach Hovick, Ellis, Tyler Hovick and Birchmier.
"I thought this was a hard-fought game by (all) the guys," added Hill. "We missed out on a few opportunities, but we battled the whole game. As we get towards the end of the season we need to make sure we are executing plays at a high rate. Tonight we just didn’t do that. (However) there were still a lot of positives to take from this game."
R-S 6-4, Van Meter 0-11
The Roland-Story Norsemen and the Class 1A 2nd ranked Van Meter Bulldogs hooked up in a doubleheader at Van Meter last Tuesday night (July 2). In what was perhaps their best game of the year, the Norse took game one in impressive fashion 6-0 over the home team. The second posed a pitching matchup problem that resulted in an 11-4 Van Meter victory.
Zach Hovick pitched an excellent two-hit shutout in the opener, striking out three and walking none. Alex Muhlenburg and Hovick each had two hits, as the Norse posted nine hits. Muhlenburg and Andrew Schlatter each scored twice.
R-S tallied two runs in each of the third and fifth innings, and added single runs in the sixth and seventh to maintain the upper hand. Other hits came off the bats of Riley Ellis, Evan Johnson, Tyler Hovick, Cole Birchmier and Schlatter.
"If this wasn’t our best all-around game of the year, then it rated right up there," said Hill. "The guys did a lot of things right in this game. Zach threw well and let his defense make the plays."
Van Meter rallied in game two scoring early and often. The Bulldogs jumped out to a 6-0 lead with two in the first and four in the second, before the Norse could get on the board.
But R-S managed to cut into the lead with a single run in the third and three in the fourth to cut the deficit to 6-4. Van Meter put the game away, however, with another four-spot in the bottom of the fourth, and then added an exclamation "point" in the sixth to win by seven, 11-4.
"With the way our week set up, this wasn’t our greatest pitching matchup," commented Coach Hill. "With that said, Tyler (Hovick), Riley (Ellis) and Andrew (Schlatter) did a good job (on the mound). Van Meter just hits the heck out of the ball."
The home team punched out 12 hits against the R-S pitching trio. The Norse put nine hits on the board, but came up short in the run department. Schlatter, Birchmier and Muhlenburg each had two hits. The three-run third was highlighted by a run-scoring single by Birchmier and an RBI double by Muhlenburg. Zach Hovick drove in the Norsemen’s first run on a sacrifice fly to center, which brought in Schlatter, after Andrew had singled to lead off the inning.
Muhlenburg finished the night with four hits, which was nice to see, considering he has been dealing with an elbow issue as of late. "It has limited his playing (time) in the field," explained Hill. "He has now only been able to DH. It’s a challenge trying to go from an every-day defensive and offensive player to just being an offensive guy. Anytime someone comes up with four hits against a top-rated team they should feel pretty darn good about what they accomplished."
Nevada 5, R-S 1
The Norse continued to run into tough competition, meeting up with a very good Nevada Cubs team last Wednesday night (July 3) in Story City. Following a 5-1 defeat to the Cubs, the Norsemen took a two-day 4th of July break, sporting an unfortunate 1-5 record in their last six games. Not exactly a positive sign with 2A District play looming in another week. But Coach Hill was still optimistic and satisfied with the Norsemen’s effort despite the down turn:
"We have run into some pretty good teams lately," he said, "and even though we have been more on the losing side of things than we have been used to, we are still able to take some positive things from these games. I continue to be impressed with our ability to work runners into scoring position. We just need to start getting them in once we get them there."
The Norse boys could only score once against the Cubs; a single run in the fifth. That, unfortunately, followed a four-run top of the fifth by Nevada that proved to be the difference in the ball game.
R-S had five hits, while Nevada came up with seven. Evan Johnson and Alex Urbanek handled mound duties for the Norse. Evan started and went 4 2/3 innings, giving up three earned runs, four hits, four walks and struck out six. Alex relieved in the fifth and went the remaining 2 2/3, allowing two earned runs, three hits, one walk and struck out two.
Schlatter walked and scored the Norsemen’s only run when he came around to score following a stolen base, a single by Urbanek and an RBI single by Zach Hovick.
Waterloo Bucks Tournament
R-S 21, South Hardin 1
The bats came back alive after a couple of silent outings, as the Norse faced off against South Hardin in the first game of the Waterloo Bucks Tournament held on Saturday (July 6). A 10-run fourth settled the score quickly, with Roland-Story already owning an 11-0 lead through three innings of play. Tyler Hovick had a great game, leading the 11-hit R-S attack by going 4 for 4, with four runs scored and two RBIs.
"Tyler has stepped up in a very big way," stated Hill. "The injury bug has been making its rounds on our team, and Tyler has been a very big reason why our season remains a success. Every team goes through injuries, but Tyler has really been our first aid kit. He has filled in on the mound, in the field and behind the plate. Though he has done all these defensive things, it still leaves out one of the most valuable things he has brought to this team – his quality bat."
Evan Johnson also contributed offensively; going 2 for 3 with four RBIs and two runs scored.
Colton Finley continues to shine as well, taking to the mound once again and going four innings and allowing only one run on two hits, striking out six and walking just one.
"Colton is another example of what hard work can do," stated Coach Hill. "Over the last two years Colton has dedicated himself to a lot of off-season pitching. He is a prime example of what this baseball program is – hard-working guys that go out and give you everything they have."
R-S 13, G-H/V 0
The Norsemen tied a school record for victories by posting their 23rd win of the season, shutting out Garner-Hayfield/Ventura 13-0 in five innings at the Waterloo Bucks Tournament on Saturday. The Norse turned in a defensive gem, setting the tone for a one-hit shutout by Zach Hovick.
"The defense stayed strong all game," commented Coach Hill, "just as it has for the past several games. I’m very impressed with where we are going as s defensive team."
Evan Johnson continued his hitting barrage in game two Saturday, going 3 for 4, with three RBIs and three runs scored. All totaled, Evan was 5 for 7 with seven RBIs in the two games. For a player who began the season as a DH, Evan now sits in the number four slot in the batting order and is playing regularly in left field.
Zach Hovick once again gave a stellar performance on the mound, allowing one hit and striking out five, in a dominating turn for the Norse. Hovick has now gone 19 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run.
"Zach is beginning to put himself right up there with the best of the best in pitching at Roland-Story," said Hill. "That list includes some pretty impressive people, including Devin Fuhrman, who helped lead Roland-Story to their only state tournament appearance in school history in 1991."
The Norse scored three in the first, six in the second and four in the third, as the game was a no-contest from the outset. Riley Ellis, Alex Muhlenburg and Alex Urbanek all had two hits for the Norse. Muhlenburg also drove in three runs, while Urbanek plated two runs. All 11 hits for the Norsemen were singles.