Small College Sports

Kirkwood baseball wins opener, settles for split with Southeast

Best-of-3 playoff series finale set for Sunday

Taylor Jackson, Kirkwood freshman
Taylor Jackson, Kirkwood freshman
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Kirkwood Coach Todd Rima had some solid advice for his baseball team.

The sixth-year Eagles skipper urged them to get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids and have a short memory.

Kirkwood needs one more victory to earn a trip to the NJCAA Division II College World Series, splitting the first two games of the best-of-3 district playoff at home against Southeast (Neb.) Community College on Saturday. The Eagles and Storm will play the series finale Sunday at 1 p.m.

“We’ve got one game to get to Enid, Okla.,” Rima said about the World Series tournament May 26-June 2 at Dave Allen Memorial Ballpark. “We’re going to show up and compete our butts off (Sunday).”

Kirkwood (41-15-1) captured the opener, 10-1, in eight innings. The Storm (42-15) rebounded for a 14-9 victory to force the "if necessary" game Sunday.

“We’ll play with a lot of energy,” Rima said. “We’ll play hard (Sunday) afternoon. I know these guys. They’ve been resilient all year. They are going to bounce back and play with a lot of passion.”

The twinbill was a tale of two games. In the opener, the Eagles received a gem from starter Peyton Long. He stifled the Southeast hitters, holding them to just one run on six hits.

“I thought Long was unbelievable,” Rima said. “That’s the start you want from your Game 1 starter. Whether it’s a weekend series or anything in this setting, he did exactly what we needed.”

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Long said he was aggressive, varying his pitches to attack the zone and live on the inside of the plate. He was able to command his fastball and off-speed pitches to baffle batters.

“I got them off what they were doing,” said Long, who struck out five. “I tried to mix it up a lot and we had a lot of success with everything really.”

He helped put the Eagles in the catbird seat, winning the first game. The sophomore from West Des Moines Valley was comfortable with so much on the line and fed off the energy from a good-sized crowd.

“I love the big moments, big games and big-time events,” Long said. “Adrenaline is a big thing for me. I thrive off it.”

Freshman Taylor Jackson provided plenty of offense for the Eagles, including four hits and two runs in the victory. Jackson scorched Storm pitchers all day, finishing 8-of-10 with five runs.

“I just tried to focus and be the best for my team,” Jackson said. “I knew it was a big day for us. I just wanted to lock in and do whatever I can for my team.”

Jackson belted a two-run home run in the third inning of game two, cutting Southeast’s early lead to 4-2. He also singled and scored to give the Eagles a brief 5-4 lead in the fifth. Jackson also made a running grab in center field, running into the wall to end the inning and preventing two more runs.

“The kid doesn’t get fazed,” Rima said. “He doesn’t play like a freshman. He’s a special talent and special kid. He led us today. The catch he made in center field was better than any swing that he took. It was an unbelievable play.

“He was great. We’re going to need it from him (Sunday), too.”

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Southeast jumped to a lead with a four-run first in the second game. Kirkwood used Jackson’s homer and a two-run blast from Ellison Hanna to center field to tie it in the fourth. Ross Kramer chased home Jackson to go ahead and it seemed the Eagles were in control.

“I felt we had momentum,” Rima said. “We just needed one more zero and it felt like we could get it rolling.”

Southeast erupted for five runs in the bottom of the fifth and tacked one more on in the seventh. Aaron Palensky’s grand slam in the seventh helped seal the win for the Storm.

Izaya Fullard matched Jackson with four hits in the nightcap. Max McCay added a two-run home run for the Eagles. In the opener, Cal Clark and Chili Moseley each had two hits. Moseley hit a grand slam in the bottom of the eighth to end the contest via mercy rule, which is not in effect in elimination games.

The teams will face off in a winner-take-all contest at Kirkwood.

“The mindset is to just flush it,” Jackson said. “Come back and go get it (Sunday).

“They played a good game the second game. They took advantage of our mistakes. (Sunday) we will not make any mistakes. We will come out and play hard.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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