INDEPENDENCE - For Independence, the prep football season opener bore little resemblance to its winless 2016 campaign.
Even in defeat, a clear message was sent that there are brighter days ahead for the Mustangs.
Independence nearly matc ... »
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Coe gave it a good run.
The Kohawks won three games against higher-seeded teams, including a thriller to reach the final. The run came to an end when the timely hits did.
Fifth-seeded Coe opened Saturday with a come-from-behind victory over No. 3 Buena Vista and then fell to top-seeded Wartburg, 6-1, in the finals of the Iowa Conference baseball tournament Saturday at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
“I couldn’t be prouder of their fight,” Coe Coach Steve Cook said. “Ultimately, being able to finish second, there’s still a lot that we accomplished. There’s no doubt.”
The Kohawks (24-18) kept Wartburg scoreless through four innings thanks to starter Thomas Schaedel, who returned to the mound after throwing 130 pitches in a first-round victory over Luther on Thursday.
Cook said he wasn’t sure what he’d get out of Schaedel and didn’t expect him to reach the fifth. Schaedel retired the first 10 batters he faced, allowing just one base runner through four.
“He’s a senior and he wanted it,” Cook said. “We told him if you can give us three or four maybe good innings, thinking that might be to give up a run or two and keep us in the game, and he’s throwing up zeros and having a low pitch count.”
The Knights (31-12) figured Schaedel’s riddle in the fifth. After managing just one hit and a Coe error to open the inning, the Knights smacked three straight singles and five base hits in a six-batter stretch.
Zach Hovick put Wartburg on the board when his base hit scored Cody Hyler and Mike Brown. Hovick didn’t have a hit in the first two games of the tournament, but drove in what proved to be the game-winning run.
“I’ve been struggling but I’ve been hitting balls well,” Hovick said. “I was just aggressive the first pitch. I was ready for it. I put a good swing on it.”
Eric Willis followed with a one-out RBI single to score David Fitzgerald. Hovick also scored. Schaedel, a hard-throwing right-hander, changed speeds and kept the Knights off balance for most of his 4 1/3 innings pitched.
“Finally, got some people on base and was able to do some things helped us a little bit,” Wartburg Coach Joel Holst said. “Some miscues defensively and we took advantage of that.”
Austin Lechtenberg and Blake Mahoney added RBI singles in the sixth and seventh, respectively.
Wartburg starter Michael Knouse (2-1) pitched six innings, which was his longest outing of the season. He struck out seven and allowed six hits. He prevented key two-out hits, stranding six Coe runners and getting an inning-ending double play in the fourth.
Holst said pitching and defense are keys to winning titles.
“Michael Knouse did a great job, being a senior and giving the type of pitching performance that we needed there,” Holst said. “I think we played really good defense.
“We’re excited about the way we played here in the tournament.”
The Knights won their 10th conference tournament title and first since 2013, adding it to their regular-season crown. They receive an automatic berth to NCAA Division III regional play.
“That’s huge,” Hovick said. “We know we’re going to the regional and it’s a great feeling.”
Coe has thrived on timely hitting but for most of the day it didn’t occur. The Kohawks loaded the bases in the fifth with none out and had two on in the first and seventh. They managed just one run.
“We had runners on,” Cook said. “We had bases loaded. We had first and second. We had second and third. We had all sorts of opportunities.
“It’s always hats off to their guy. They earned it. I’m taking nothing away from them, but at the same time we needed to do a better job of timely hitting and driving in runs. We didn’t do that in this game.”
Coe had problems converting on chances in the elimination game against Buena Vista. The Kohawks placed more than one runner on in the sixth and seventh but got one run out of it.
They produced the winning rally in the eighth, trailing 4-1. Grant Henning led off with a double and Jack Strellner followed with a single. Both scored on Jacob Burns’ two-out single, bringing senior Andrew Brierton up with the go-ahead run.
The Kohawks planned to go down swinging, even planning a comeback in the ninth of the championship game.
“That’s never been an issue with this group,” Cook said about Coe’s fight. “It’s a nine-player senior class. They’ve been sticking together.”
Brierton drove the ball that stayed fair and cleared the wall for the 5-4 lead. He sprinted immediately, realizing he hit the homer when he reached second.
“He missed with his off-speed,” Brierton said. “I knew he had to come with his fastball eventually.
“I picked a spot and went with it.”
Michael Golinski threw 3 2/3 innings of shutout relief for the victory, improving to 4-1. Lucas Robbins earned the save, shutting out the Beavers the last two innings.
“We never give up,” Brierton said. “It’s a live together, die together kind of thing.
“We needed something. We did enough. It was awesome.”
Cook said the Kohawks are young and there is plenty to build on from this season.
“We’re in a good place,” Cook said. “We’re already looking forward to next year. Hopefully, we can find ourselves back here again.”
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