MARSHALLTOWN — A rugged conference schedule produced a pedestrian record for the Marshalltown baseball team.
A 14-6 start to the season abruptly gave way to 12 losses in 17 games against a stout group of foes from the Central Iowa Metro League. Some topsy-turvy district results had many feeling the Bobcats were vulnerable to elimination.
But behind a rousing home-field crowd, an impenetrable pitcher and a deliberate, methodical offense, Marshalltown is on its way to the state tournament for the first time since 2009.
“I think we got a little more conservative offensively,” Marshalltown senior pitcher Nate Vance said after the Bobcats smothered Iowa City High, 9-2, in a Class 4A substate final game Wednesday night at Marshalltown High School. “We started to try to make counts a little deeper. Right when we got a guy on first base, try to move him to second base. We just tried to get each run by run. We didn’t try to hit doubles off the wall.”
Marshalltown (20-18) will play a 4A state quarterfinal on Wednesday at Principal Park in Des Moines. This is the seventh state tournament appearance in the last 24 years for Coach Steve Hanson, which includes a state championship in 2002.
“This group has fought through a lot of adversity,” Hanson said. “We’ve had a bunch of guys hurt. We’ve had a bunch of guys who have overcome surgeries in the offseason. We aren’t your typical 25-man roster with backups at each position. We have our nine guys.”
The Bobcats scored runs in each of the first three innings against City High pitchers Ry Threlkeld-Wiegand, Evan Jones and Jacob Dykes without the benefit of an extra-base hit.
A sacrifice fly, two RBI singles and a bases-loaded walk and hit by pitch helped Marshalltown to a 5-0 lead after three frames.
“We gave them a lot of opportunities early on,” City High Coach Brian Mitchell said. “That set the tone. We probably didn’t pitch as well as we would have hoped, made a few mistakes.”
Vance (9-2) allowed eight hits and two runs, then punctuated his complete game effort with a pair of strikeouts to end the game.
Vance is no stranger to pressure-packed moments. In October, his eagle putt on hole No. 18 in a four-way playoff won golf state championships for both himself as an individual and the team title for Marshalltown.
“I think in golf you’re mostly just playing for yourself,” Vance said. “When you’re playing baseball, you’ve got eight guys around you that all want you to succeed just as bad as you do. I think that is the difference.”
A single by City High junior Sam Lewers and a double by senior Cole Milder in the top of the sixth inning were the only runs for the Little Hawks (24-18).
“We kind of turned our season around about three weeks ago,” Mitchell said. “Asked them to make some changes and I felt every one of them bought into that. They did a fantastic job of coming to practice and the park every day and playing the game the right way.”
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