116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS – Coaches generally don’t want to play that game, and you can’t blame them.
They need to be focused on the here and now, perhaps just a tad on the future. Reflecting on the past generally is a no go.
All of which made Steve Cook’s thoughts Wednesday even more interesting. The Coe College baseball coach was not shy in expressing his lament about the COVID-shortened 2020 college season.
It most definitely sucked for everyone, and Cook felt his Kohawks especially. Coe went 37-8 in 2019, losing an NCAA Division III Super Regional series at eventual national runner-up Birmingham-Southern, and had tons of guys returning, including virtually its entire pitching staff.
“I’m not a guy who likes to over-exaggerate about what woulda, coulda, shoulda been,” Cook said. “That 2020 team was set up to be as good, better – I don’t know how you qualify that, but I’ll just say as good as that 2019 team. We had every belief that we were going to be able to get ourselves in at least a position to make another run at being in Cedar Rapids (for the national tournament). I don’t think anyone would say I’m embellishing that.”
Cook doesn’t have those same vibes about this Coe baseball team as of yet, but he seems to be getting there. Coe is 22-3 and ranked 20th nationally going into its four-game weekend home series against Dubuque.
The Kohawks lead the American Rivers Conference with an 18-2 record.
“We’ve been doing a lot of different things that have allowed us to win games,” said senior center fielder Isaac Evans. “We’re playing together, having each other’s backs always. We’re just going out here having fun. Every day is a new day … It’s like last year because you never know what’s going to happen. We’ve been playing hard, finding ways to win, rallying around Coach, listening to what he’s got to say. He’s a great coach.”
Evans is one of five players who were seniors last season who decided to take advantage of the NCAA rule allowing another year of playing eligibility because of COVID. The others are starting first baseman Jordan Kaplan, starting third baseman Jacob Henry, pitcher Jack Greene and outfielder Luke Smailes.
Unfortunately, Greene, a member of the rotation, pitched only twice until it was discovered he had a torn elbow ligament.
“Knowing the potential we had, that was kind of the deciding factor for me in coming back,” said Henry, a Cedar Rapids Kennedy grad. “Just the atmosphere and the culture Coe baseball has, I wanted to be part of it for another season.”
Coe has the best pitching staff in the American Rivers Conference statistically, a 3.20 earned run average that is over a run lower than second-place Wartburg. T.J. Deardorff and T.J. Johnson (a Cedar Rapids Prairie grad) have made seamless transitions from relieving to starting, combining with freshman Tyce Johnson and junior Matthew Mittelmark for a four-man rotation that gives Coe a legit chance to win each game of its regular weekend ARC series.
Johnson (.402) and outfielder Riley LeGrand (.477) are the top hitters for an offense that’s third statistically in the conference, but is still trying to find its way.
“We like to pitch and play ‘D,’” Henry said. “That’s kind of what we’ve built into our culture around here. We’re just going to continue to try and do what we’re doing. If we can start clicking offensively, that’s kind of been our weak area this season so far, coming together as an offense. But that’s what we’re going to need to do to make it deep into a tournament this year. Especially this year and having to win the (ARC) tournament to get to regionals.”
The American Rivers Conference tournament is in late May in Cedar Rapids and Waverly.
“What I’ve noticed about this group is we’ve kind of been able to carry over from 2019 just this innate ability to find ways to win lots of different types of games,” Cook said. “Whether they end up being low scoring, whether they end up being a comeback, whether it ends up being getting out front eight or nine runs early. It just seems like this group has been as diverse in their ways of winning, at least what it looked like back in 2019 as well.”
Cook won’t quite pronounce this team 2019 quality, but he isn’t ruling out its ability to eventually get there.
“We’re growing into our identity a little bit more, but, obviously, this team has just found ways to win,” he said. “As a coach, you’ve got to start to trust that, too, right? I still don’t think we’re there, yet … But I’m not going to fight success, either. Every team that I’ve coached has its own way of getting there. This team has shown that ability.”