116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Luther Coach Bryan Nikkel heard an unexpected knock on his hotel room door.
Norse junior starter Nick Dufoe stopped by for a visit Saturday night with a request. Well, it was probably more of a demand.
Dufoe wanted the baseball with the conference title on the line, despite throwing 115 pitches three days earlier.
“From the moment that Wartburg game got over, I knew we were going to win some games, get here and see Coe,” Dufoe said. “I knew I wanted the ball in this one.”
On short rest, Dufoe handled Coe’s potent offense, allowing one run in six innings, teammates Noah Sebben and Kelby Johnson helped produce runs and second-seeded Luther knocked off 14th-ranked Coe, 4-2, for the American Rivers Conference tournament title Sunday at Mount Mercy’s Robert W. Plaster Athletic Complex.
His second win over Coe in the last nine days resulted in Luther’s third conference tournament title, the first since 2016 and the ARC’s automatic NCAA tournament bid.
“Nick Dufoe was just electric on a couple days rest,” Nikkel said. “He was pounding on the hotel room door, saying I need the baseball. It was his to go out there and get.”
Dufoe pitched 8 2/3 innings in an 11-5 victory over Wartburg to start the tournament. He had never worked on such a quick turnaround after that long of an outing. With some ice, stimulus treatment, rest and hydration, he was able to scatter six hits without a single walk against the conference’s top offense.
“I was kind of hurting and had some ticky-tacky injuries going on, but it’s tournament time,” Dufoe said. “I’m ready to roll.”
The Norse (31-14) provided a lead in the third. Sebben led off with a double and moved to third on a Cullen Stamp single. Sebben scored on a Luke Plunkett groundout and Kelby Johnson’s sacrifice fly chased home Stamp for a 2-0 advantage.
“I had to keep attacking these guys,” Dufoe said. “I have a little cushion now, pitching with the lead. It was a lot of fun.”
Coe cut the lead in half on Jordan Kaplan’s base hit to left that scored Riley Legrand. Dufoe thwarted the rally, stranding the bases loaded.
Luther responded immediately with two in the seventh, getting a leadoff home run from Sebben. He smacked a 1-0 pitch over the left-field fence.
“I just went up there to sit back, have some fun and relax a little bit,” said Sebben, who went 3-for-3 with a walk and two runs. “I was lucky enough to put a good swing on. Thankfully the wind was blowing out a little bit. That always helps.”
Sebben hit his third home run in three days. He leads the team with six this season. Interestingly, he was a part-time starter until an injury forced him to take over full-time.
“He stepped up in a big way,” Nikkel said. “It’s an understatement to say but he hit some big home runs for us this weekend. He played dominant defense for us. It’s all you can ask for from a guy who hasn’t had a lot of experience during the year but looks like he’s been playing there all year.”
Luther’s defense was strong all day, including Johnson’s nine assists and two putouts at shortstop. Norse relievers Collin Chalmers and Nate Loch combined to go the rest of the way.
They shut down rallies as Coe brought the tying run to the plate in each of the last three innings. Chalmers managed two strikeouts to end the seventh. Loch got a strikeout to end the eighth and three line-drive outs in the ninth.
“Our staff has been incredible lately,” Sebben said. “You can’t get anything better from your staff from the starters to bullpen to closer.”
Isaac Evans, T.J. Johnson and Kaplan had two hits apiece to lead Coe. The Kohawks had chances, but just couldn’t muster the clutch hit, leaving 11 runners on base.
“We feel like we had some opportunities,” Coe Coach Cook said. “They made some great plays defensively as well, especially in the infield. We just didn’t have enough today.”
Coe’s fate sits in someone else’s hands. Despite a 36-7 record and respectable national ranking, Cook was uncertain of an at-large NCAA berth.
“It’s a tough group to be in, especially with the field being smaller this year,” Cook said. “There are not enough at-larges to go around with the teams that are very similar to us in our resume.”