116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — With two outs in the top of the ninth inning Sunday night, a routine flyball was lifted to Kirkwood right fielder Chase Moseley.
It was about as routine as it gets, surely ending a day of baseball that was anything but routine.
Yet Moseley, his team’s best player, a guy headed to play next season for the Iowa Hawkeyes, somehow didn’t secure the catch. He picked up the live ball and threw it back in as his teammates, already poured from their dugout to the field for a celebration, quickly retreated right back off it.
What a perfect capper to a whole lot of madness.
“Got a little too excited,” Moseley said, with a smile. “Squeezed a little too early on that one.”
He got an immediate chance at redemption, securing an ensuing routine fly that finally finished off a 23-16 win over Southeastern in the winner-take-all championship game of the NJCAA Division II Region XI Tournament at Mount Mercy.
Southeastern forced the if-necessary game with a 16-15 win earlier Sunday. In all, this was seven hours and 33 minutes of baseball that featured 70 combined runs.
If you actually managed to make an out in this doubleheader, you had to feel crappy.
“It was a long day,” Moseley said. “We got a little bit hungry (at the end), but that was about it.”
Kirkwood (41-16), the tourney’s top seed, advances to this coming weekend’s best-of-three district championship series against either Williston State or Bismarck State in North Dakota. The Eagles are seeking a second straight trip to the NJCAA Division II World Series.
“I don’t know if you can describe it,” Kirkwood Coach Todd Rima said, when asked to sum up what had just happened. “Two teams that were battling. What I really thought happened was the character of our kids, the character of our program showed through.”
Fourth-seeded Southeastern (42-21), which played seven tournament games to Kirkwood’s four, just kind of ended up running out of pitching. Heck, both teams did.
The Blackhawks used a 12-run fifth inning to take the first game, though they had to hang on in the ninth, as Kirkwood stranded the tying and winning runs on base. Southeastern then put up an immediate eight-spot in the top of the first inning of the second game, taking an 11-2 lead into the bottom of the second.
“You lose the first one, 16-15, a tough game in which you had the winning run on base. Then you get down 8-0 and 11-2. Could have easily folded, but they kept playing,” Rima said. “That’s what they’ve done all year. That’s what I’m most proud of, I think. Just the character that they showed.”
Kirkwood didn’t exactly chip away at its deficit, scoring nine runs in the fourth and 10 in the fifth for a 22-12 lead it never relinquished. It was just hit after hit, a couple of hit batters, a couple of walks and then more hit after hit after hit.
Moseley, Alex Pendergast, Trenton Burkhalter, Joe Simpson and Cael Frost all homered to extend Kirkwood’s nation-leading long ball total to 106. The Eagles scored 61 runs in their four tournament games, literally just overwhelming teams with their prodigious offense.
“I guess it’s the end of the week, we both used a lot of pitching,” Moseley said. “So it was a race to the bat rack. We ended up getting the last laugh ... We have a few returnees from last year, and everybody knows that team was relentless and never stopped. We kind of carried that mentality over to this team, and we really just rode with that.”
“We had a lot of ballgame, we know how good our offense is, and, to their credit, they went out and executed,” Rima said. “Man, what a display those kids put on there for a couple of innings. To score 19 in two innings, you just don’t see that at this level.”
Caleb Banowetz finally stabilized things pitching-wise for Kirkwood, throwing 2 1/3 shutout innings to get the game to the ninth. From there, closer Bryce Schares took over.
He finished three of his team’s games here, recording his ninth and 10th saves this season.
In the end, Moseley was able to celebrate on a field he called home last fall. The sophomore had transferred to Mount Mercy, but decided to return to Kirkwood for his COVID-19 year of eligibility.
Kind of a surreal deal for him, as was this entire day for everyone.
“This is honestly the whole reason I came back,” Moseley said. “Winning our conference tournament is a huge achievement for everybody in our program. That’s what I came back for. Because that was everyone’s goal, including mine.”
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