MARION — The Linn-Mar baseball team knew it was better than a season-opening loss in extra innings.
The two close losses to top-10 teams that followed didn’t set well with Linn-Mar either. The Lions amped up their offense to overcome struggles in other areas.
The result is a team that has the second-most runs in Class 4A, trailing only top-ranked Johnston, and 10 victories in the last 11 games.
“I think they were just sick and tired of why are we leaving this up to the defense and pitching and let’s just hit the ball and take control of the game,” second-year Lions head coach Kyle Rodenkirk said. “It’s kind of been their mindset. The biggest thing I’ve been preaching to them is that if they want to make a run in the postseason we have to have pitching and defense.”
Linn-Mar improved to 11-4 before Thursday’s game against North Scott and moved to ninth in the Iowa High School Coaches Association’s poll earlier this week. The Lions actually won nine consecutive games after dropping the first three of the season. They earned a doubleheader split with No. 6 Iowa City West to start the streak.
“They are coming to work every day,” Rodenkirk said. “It’s a fun group. They’re great kids. Sometimes they're too nice. It’s just trying to get a little nasty into them.”
The offense has been the most consistent, ranking fourth in 4A with a .339 team batting average and averaging nine runs a game. The struggle has been getting strong pitching and solid defense at the same time. Rodenkirk said his biggest challenge is getting all three phases of the game to click together and when it happens the Lions will be a tough out.
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“The hitting is great, but you’ve got to have pitching and defense,” Rodenkirk said. “Most of our practices have been built around the defensive side. They are making strides. We have guys playing in different positions they may not have played, but it helps the team as a whole and what we are going to go with.”
The Lions have also applied a team-first mentality. They have subscribed to the “we before me” sports cliché, according to Rodenkirk. He credited Coy Sarsfield and Greg Hall as being leaders on and off the field and pitchers Ryan Stroschein and Peyton Weber have led by example.
Hall leads the team with a .460 batting average. Dan Coughlin (.432) and Eli Scott (.417) have been productive. Scott leads the team with 13 RBIs, while Hall’s 23 hits and 19 runs are team highs.
“They are starting to buy in to the little things, like moving base runners over, and it’s been a pretty good recipe for success so far,” Rodenkirk said. “We’ll just try to continue to build off that and be as perfect as we can. Good things will happen.”
HLV remains unbeaten
Only nine Iowa high school baseball teams remain unbeaten and HLV is the lone Gazette-area program without a loss this season. The Warriors are 13-0, including a five-inning 15-1 victory over Keota in Victor.
HLV cracked the IHSBCA 1A rankings last week and moved up to ninth in the latest installment released Monday.
The Warriors are second in 1A with a 1.18 team earned run average. They allow less than two total runs per game and have given up 14 earned runs in 13 games. Opponents are hitting just .194 against HLV throwers.
Brody Wolf and Carson Cheney lead the way with 5-0 records. Wolf owns a 0.51 ERA, while Cheney sits at 0.84. Wolf also has 32 strikeouts in 27 2/3 innings.
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HLV averages more than nine runs a game. All-stater Dean Schaull leads the Warriors in most offensive categories. He has a .596 batting average and .649 on-base percentage. Schaull has 28 hits, including five doubles and two triples, with 19 runs, 10 RBIs and 21 stolen bases without being caught stealing.
HLV hosts No. 6 Alburnett Friday.
South Winn swiper
South Winneshiek’s Noah Tieskoetter is tied for the 1A lead in stolen bases. The Warriors junior has 31 stolen bases in 32 attempts, sharing top honors with Garwin GMG’s Blaze Krull.
Tieskoetter and Krull are second in all classes, trailing North Linn’s Jake Hilmer by one. Tieskoetter bats .362 with 21 hits and has drawn 11 walks for a .465 on-base percentage.
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