116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — From underdog to top dog.
Coe entered the American Rivers Conference baseball tournament as the fifth seed out of six that qualified for postseason play. The Kohawks made a run that would have made Average Joe’s and Patches O’Houlihan proud.
Coe scored seven runs in a wild first inning and cruised to a 10-6 victory over No. 6-seed Wartburg in the A-R-C tournament championship Saturday at Veterans Memorial Stadium. The Kohawks claimed their first conference tournament title since 2015 and earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III tournament.
“It’s indescribable,” Coe senior T.J. Johnson said. “It’s been a long road, starting in January all the way to now. You have a lot of ups and downs. There is no feeling to describe what it’s like to win with all your best friends.”
The Kohawks piled in the infield after a 4-6-3 game-ending double play. They also drenched Coach Steve Cook with a water bucket. The excitement was palpable, persevering through a tough season and reaping the rewards of their resilience.
“Right now, I’m feeling it on a personal level with the guys,” Cook said. “It hasn’t been an easy year. Playing .500 baseball is not easy. You’re going to have a lot of ups, downs, meetings and a lot of things go on and we went through all that.
“I’m just really happy for these guys that there was a good thing waiting for them, because they never gave up.”
Coe (21-19) entered the postseason with a losing overall record, facing a tough non-conference schedule. The Kohawks became just the fifth No. 5-seed to reach the conference tournament final, being the last to do it in 2017 as well.
One of the positives was Coe had at least one regular-season victory over each of the other five teams in the field.
“We knew we were one of the best teams here,” Brosius said. “We got our jobs done and that’s what led us to this championship.
“We knew we could stick with any of the teams here. We knew that our pitching would get it done and our bats were rolling. We were pretty confident coming into this tournament.”
The opening inning hinted at a crazy contest. Coe retired the first two batters, but things went haywire. Matt Mittelmark plunked the next three batters, loading the bases. Wartburg’s Keaton Gray smacked a bases-clearing double for a 3-0 lead.
The Kohawks answered with an outburst of their own, sending 12 batters to the plate with the first 10 reaching base. Johnson sparked the rally with a leadoff single. Reid Rausch double over the right fielder’s head, chasing Johnson in from first.
Creighton Kreshel and Brosius followed with singles and Rausch scored on T.J. Deardorff’s fielder’s choice. Jack Allison, who had multiple two-out RBIs Friday against Loras, gave Coe a 4-3 lead with a two-run single. Two hit batsmen later, James VanHooser and Johnson had consecutive run-scoring hits. Rausch added a sacrifice fly to cap the scoring.
“We had to play like it was our last game, even though we had a two-game buffer,” Johnson said. “We couldn’t play like we had that buffer. It was like our last game and we were going to leave everything out on this field. We did that exactly.”
The Kohawks didn’t win the game in the first inning but it had a major impact on the result. Cook said he can’t remember a crazy first inning like that on a stage with so much at stake.
“In playoff baseball, you can go to every out, every inning and every at-bat, somewhere that you can find different shifts in momentum,” Cook said. “That was a huge one. To me, that was the mark of the game.”
Coe added to its lead with Deardorff’s RBI single to score Brosius in the second. Tyce Johnson had an RBI single in the seventh. T.J. Johnson led off the eighth with a triple and scored on a Kreshel sacrifice fly to center, giving Coe double-digit runs for the third straight game and 37 total in the tournament.
Offensive balance was impressive. All nine Kohawk batters reached base safely with eight having at least one hit. Eight scored and seven drove in at least one run. Deardorff and Tyce Johnson also had multi-hit games, while Rausch, Deardorff and Allison drove in two runs each.
Cook said that overall production was missing much of the regular season.
“We didn’t change a ton,” Cook said. “We didn’t start hitting a bunch of home runs, but we were just tough outs all the way one through nine. We came up with two-out RBIs (and) big moments all weekend. That’s what brought us to this place.”
Coe ranked among the conference leaders in pitching this year. Mittelmark rebounded from the first inning and allowed one more run on Gray’s RBI single to score Ben DeKruyf in the third. Zach Walton added a two-run home run for Wartburg, which finished the season 25-21 and became just the second No. 6 seed to reach the conference tournament finals, joining the 1999 William Penn team.
Coe freshman Ethan O’Donnell pitched four shutout innings of relief, striking out five without a walk. He sat down seven of the last eight batters he faced.
“Unbelievable,” Cook said of the former Iowa City Liberty right-hander. “To come in that championship setting as a freshman, he was really laser focused on what he needed to do and did a great job.”
Coe returns to the NCAA tournament for the first time since reaching the super regionals in 2019. The Kohawks soothed the sting of falling in the conference finals last year and missing an at-large bid. They might be elated, but they are not satisfied.
“It’s a great feeling but we’re not done yet,” T.J. Johnson said. “We have a regional coming up and we have to do what we did here to have a shot there.”