CASCADE — Spikes stayed laced, jerseys remained tucked and the fight continued, even when the end appeared imminent.
Oelwein was down to its final strike twice and battled until it received one more break. Then the Huskies capitalized on it.
Two runs scored on a two-out error in the final inning to propel Oelwein to a 9-8 victory over Cascade Saturday in the Class 2A District 4 final at American Legion Field. For the second straight year, the Huskies captured a district crown at the expense of the host Cougars.
“To be down to your final strike on two different hitters against a really good team is pretty incredible,” Oelwein Coach Jason Gearhart said. “They are a gritty bunch.”
Oelwein (21-11) advances to the substate final against New Hampton Tuesday at Waverly-Shell Rock. The Chickasaws (27-9) defeated Osage, 7-2, in the District 3 final Saturday.
The Huskies built a 7-0 lead and were in control. They didn’t expect to need a late rally to come out on top, but conjured one up after Cascade took a one-run lead in the eighth on Reid Rausch’s three-run home run.
“We knew as long as we played hard we were going to have a chance,” Oelwein starter and Kirkwood recruit Steven Nicolay said. “We had to stay positive throughout the whole thing. Even when they hit a three-run home run to take the lead, I was in the dugout. Some people were down on themselves and I was trying to keep the positive energy going.”
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The seventh started with a strikeout and a hit batsman preceded a force-out that left Oelwein with one on and two outs.
Huskies No. 9 hitter Carsen Jeanes walked for the fourth time, putting the go-ahead run on base. Dom Robertson was plunked to load the bases, bringing up Dillon Arndt.
He hit a ground ball to shortstop and when the throw sailed high, Ethan Thomas and Jeanes raced home to regain the lead. Arndt didn’t expect to get to his spot in the lineup before the rally.
“I was pretty far away,” Arndt said. “When I was up to bat, I thought I had to put it in play. I couldn’t strike out and end it that way.”
Nicolay had two hits and four RBIs to lead Oelwein at the plate. His fielder’s choice drove in a run in the four-run third. He hit a high fastball that carried over the left field fence for a three-run home run in the fourth.
“I have a habit of swinging at the first pitch,” Nicolay said. “It’s mostly a fastball. When I hit it I figured it was a pop-up and then I rounded second and saw the ump call a home run. I was kind of shocked.”
Nicolay earned the win last year and had another quality start. He tired in the heat and was relieved by Zach Wegner, who pitched two innings of relief and retired Cascade in order with two strikeouts in the seventh to earn the win.
“The three-run homer was big,” Gearhart said. “Steven is our best player. He’s our emotional leader. He’s the leader of this baseball team.”
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The Cougars (24-11) chipped away at the deficit. They scored three in the fourth and added two more in the fifth. Ted Weber had RBI doubles in both frames and Logan Otting drove in a run each inning. Rausch came up big in his final two at-bats with a one-out triple in the fifth and his second homer of the season.
“I thought going into the tournament we were playing some of our best baseball,” Cascade Coach Roamn Hummel said. “We scored three runs to cut it in half in the fourth. We got a couple more back. I felt pretty good about what was going on and then to get three in the sixth to give us the lead I thought yeah, this is going to happen.”
Oelwein turned free passes into runs. The Huskies were able to score six runs off 11 walks and two hit batsmen.
“If you look at all the runs they got in every inning, we put too many guys on base via the walk, hit batters and that sort of thing,” Hummel said. “That killed us. It put us in a rough spot in those innings.”
Oelwein fell one victory short of the state tournament at Principal Park in Des Moines. The Huskies have had their sights on the school’s seventh state berth and first since 2002.
“Since I was a freshman our whole goal was to make it to state,” Nicolay said. “No matter how far we go we just want to make it to state.”
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