CEDAR RAPIDS — The road has become tougher and Coe is no longer in the driver’s seat.
The 12th-ranked Kohawks will have to take a detour if they want to win their fourth conference tournament title.
Top-seeded Coe will have to win three straight games after a 4-0 loss to No. 2-seed Buena Vista in the American Rivers Conference baseball tournament winner’s bracket final Friday afternoon at Memorial Stadium.
Buena Vista (23-17) advances to the championship game Saturday, while Coe (33-4) opens the day with an elimination game before a possible rematch. The Kohawks would have to win two straight against the Beavers to earn the title.
“That’s why you try to stay in the winner’s bracket,” Coe Coach Steve Cook said. “To not be where we’re going.”
The Kohawks committed some uncharacteristic miscues and Buena Vista seemed to capitalize each time, starting in the two-run second.
Errant throws on consecutive groundballs allowed Buena Vista’s Nick Henrichs and Logan Mueller to reach. Tyler Stoltze and Ryley McGregor followed with back-to-back RBI singles.
The Beavers added another in the third. Coleman Roberts stole second when no one seemed to cover the bag on the attempt with two outs. Henrichs drove him in with a single. Buena Vista manufactured a run in the eighth with a leadoff single by Joe Rock and a Coe error sandwiched between a sacrifice bunt and squeeze play.
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Cook said Buena Vista had some timely hits off Andrew Schmit, who allowed two earned runs on seven hits, and became comfortable with a 3-0 lead. The Beavers’ pitching and defense were effective, which is normally Coe’s forte.
“Ultimately, we created those innings with some poor defense,” Cook said. “Hats off to their guys. They played well. They played clean defense (and) pitched it well.
“It continues to prove to be the formula in baseball to win games.”
The Kohawks led the A-R-C in pitching, hitting and fielding categories en route to the regular-season title. They had four errors and managed just five hits of their own Friday. Coe junior Jordan Kaplan said the Kohawks have to return to what has made them successful this season.
“We have to focus better on playing good defense,” Kaplan said. “It’s been our motto the whole year and today it kind of got away from us.
“Also, handling our at-bats at the plate. I think today we did a bad job of having hard outs and making the pitcher work.”
Coe stranded 10 batters on base, including two in the second and ninth. The Kohawks left the bases loaded in the sixth. T.J. Johnson and Nolan Arp opened the second with a walk and single, but Henrichs worked out of the jam with a strikeout and groundout to end the inning.
The Kohawks put the first two on in the ninth with Arp’s leadoff walk and Cam Frazier’s bunt single, but reliever Gage Smart retired three straight to end it.
“We just didn’t do team baseball at the plate,” Cook said. “We didn’t recognize opportunities to score a run with less than two outs and do enough to do it. We have to do better.”
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Buena Vista hasn’t allowed a run in two tournament games and extended its scoreless streak to 36 innings, which dates back to the first game of last week’s series against Dubuque. Henrichs allowed three hits in 5 2/3 innings and Smart notched his second save of the tournament and eighth overall.
“It’s been a lot of different guys,” Buena Vista Coach Steve Eddie said. “They’re not doing anything spectacular. We’ve just gotten some breaks along the way. Today we got a couple, too. Yesterday we got a couple.
“It’s kind of crazy. I’ve never had that before.”
Coe will face No. 4-seed Dubuque at 10 a.m. Saturday. The championship round is set to begin at 1 p.m. The Kohawks will have a lot of work ahead if they want to claim their first tournament crown since 2015.
“It’s going to be tough,” Kaplan said. “Always confidence here.”
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