Comets streak past Norse in state semis
State Baseball Semifinals
—by Todd Thorson
The Roland-Story boys ran into an old nemesis in North Polk last Thursday night (July 31) in the Class 2A state semifinals held at Principal Park in Des Moines. The Norse, coming off a big win over South Winneshiek in the state quarterfinals, hoped to avenge two earlier season losses at the hands of the Comets. But it was not to be.
North Polk jumped on Roland-Story pitcher Zach Hovick right from the start, scoring three runs in the first and three runs in the second, to take a 6-0 lead. The Norse tried to play catch up, scoring two runs in the fourth, but that was all they would get.
The Norsemen had ample opportunities to score throughout the contest, but unfortunately they stranded a total of 12 men by game’s end. It was definitely unfortunate, since Zach was settling down on the mound following a shaky start. He held the Comets in check for the final four innings, striking out four and allowing only one hit, retiring North Polk in order in two of those four final frames. The Comets also committed an uncharacteristic five errors in the game, and were very lucky to have kept the Norsemen from crossing home plate more than they did.
“North Polk just got on us with the bats early,” said a disappointed Coach Chris Hill. “We (then) settled in and had a good approach at the plate and (also) played good defense.”
The Comets loaded the bases with no outs in the first inning, and it appeared as if the Norsemen might work out of the jam. Following a pop up to catcher Tyler Hovick and a strikeout, the Norse were just one out away from getting out of the inning unscathed. But a triple to center field that Andrew Schlatter almost nabbed, allowed North Polk to clear the bases and assume a quick 3-0 lead.
The same thing happened again in the second inning, as North Polk put the first two men on, courtesy of a dropped third strike wild pitch and a single up the middle. But again, R-S posted two consecutive outs and appeared to be working out of yet another jam. Two doubles in a row, however, changed all that, and the Norsemen found themselves down 6-0.
But the “never say die” attitude that the Norsemen have always used to carry them through the ups and downs came into play the rest of the way. The Norse never let North Polk score again, and had their chances to catch the eventual state champions, but it was just too deep a hole to dig out of against such a formidable pitching staff like North Polk’s.
In the top of the fourth, the Norsemen finally broke through. Andrew Schlatter led off with a single, and after Jake Ford’s fly out to center, John Barclay singled, moving Schlatter to second. Lead off batter Zach Hovick then walked to load the bases, and the Norse were in business with one out. Alex Urbanek worked the count full and eventually walked, bringing in Schlatter for the first R-S run of the game. Ben Clark then singled, driving in Barclay, and the lead was cut to four at 6-2.
The Comets changed pitchers after Clark delivered. A come-backer to the mound by Alex Muhlenburg forced Zach at the plate for the second out, and Tyler Hovick grounded out to second to end the inning.
The Norse were retired in order in the fifth, put one man on in the sixth, and had two men on in the seventh, but could not post any more runs, as they fell to the Comets for the third time this season, 6-2.
Zach went the distance on the mound, allowing seven hits, six runs, three walks and struck out four. North Polk’s relief pitcher Brecht came on with one out in the fourth and shut down the Norsemen, allowing no runs, no hits, one walk and struck out two.
Ben Clark led the R-S offense, going 2 for 3 with an RBI. Andrew Schlatter, Jake Ford and John Barclay, the seventh, eighth and ninth hitters in the Norse lineup, had the other three hits.
“The guys gave everything they had for each other, and never gave up,” commented Hill. “I could not be more proud of them.”
The loss ended the Norsemen’s season with a fine 27-13 record. North Polk (32-5) went on to finally defeat their old nemesis Beckman Catholic (Dyersville) (29-14) in the 2A championship game Saturday afternoon (Aug. 2). The Comets had lost the title game the previous two seasons to Beckman, but this year it was North Polk’s time to shine.
“I would like to thank everyone that helped make this season such a success and one to remember,” concluded Coach Hill. “The guys, parents, school and community put in a lot of time and effort to make this past week special for them. On behalf of the entire team we thank you.
“I would also like to thank our seniors that worked hard and helped lead their team to a successful season. One that brought about life long memories. We lose six quality individuals, and each brought attributes to the team that will be hard to replace. Many of these guys have been a part of Norsemen baseball for as long as its coaching staff. On behalf of the entire coaching staff it has been an honor working side by side with you.
“My final thank you is to all the players of this year’s team. The guys truly committed themselves to each other. They proved to not only the R-S community, but the entire state, what a team is capable of when they sell out for each other and do ‘whatever it takes’ for their team.”