116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Back-to-back big-time comebacks put Kirkwood one step closer to the NJCAA Division II World Series.
At the Robert W. Plaster Athletic Complex on the Mount Mercy University campus, the Eagles swept Iowa Central, 8-3 and 9-6 in 10 innings, to win the NJCAA Region XI tournament crown.
The Eagles began the day needing a win to force a Game 3 tiebreaker against Iowa Central, but fell behind 1-0 in the third inning before sophomore Frankie Cresta came in to relieve starter Tucker Christensen and allowed just the one run while providing 5.1 innings of relief.
“All year we’ve been down and come back in a lot of games,” Cresta said. “None of us are ever worried because our guys know that we’re going to keep working the pitcher and have great at bats.”
The first of many great at-bats came in the road half of the fifth when Justin Martinez relocated a first-pitch fastball to the far side of the left-field fence.
“I was hunting fastball the whole time when I got the pitch I wanted. I smashed it,” Martinez said.
Martinez said the coaches expect him to be a tone-setter.
“I knew if I could hit something hard, I could get the team going,” Martinez said. “I hit the ball very hard and definitely got the team going.”
Still down a run, 6-foot-3 Kirkwood freshman Andrue Henry followed with a two-run home run of his own an inning later to give the Eagles their first lead, 3-2, in the sixth.
“With the guy on third I was just trying to get him in and not do anything extra,” Henry said. “The right pitch came and I swung for it.”
With Game 1 in hand, the Eagles reset and started the final game in similar fashion, falling behind 6-0 after Iowa Central scored two in the second and four in the fifth.
“We had no doubt that our bats would get going,” said Tyler Tscherter, who came in for the Eagles with two outs in the fifth. “Every time I went out it was just get a zero. Throw strikes and I knew our defense would make plays all day.”
The Eagles did not surrender another run — and scored two in the seventh, four in the ninth and three in the 10th off just five hits while drawing 13 walks.
“They just don’t quit, they’ve done it all year,” Kirkwood head coach Todd Rima. “I’m so proud of them and I’ve never been around a team that just keeps fighting on every single pitch.”
Now the Eagles (40-20) await their North Plains district opponent, who they will host Friday and Saturday, although they are content enjoying these two victories for a few days.
“If they play like that, we can compete with anybody,” Rima said. “We’re going to enjoy this one for a while and then we’ll get back to work for the districts.”