CEDAR RAPIDS — Coe baseball has used a well-known and effective formula for victories this season.
Strong pitching and defense have powered the Kohawks through the first part of the season. Turns out they can hit well, too.
Coe sits atop the American Rivers Conference, leading the league in fielding percentage, earned-run average and batting average entering a three-game series against perennial conference power Wartburg in Waverly, beginning Friday at 6 p.m.
“They’re playing pretty well,” said Coe Coach Steve Cook, who is in his 23rd season leading the program. “The big thing for us overall is we’re pitching and defending well and if you’re doing those two things you’re going to have a good chance to be successful. I think that is what has marked this first half of the year.”
The Kohawks returned most of their roster from last season, despite graduating conference position player of the year Grant Henning. They gelled in the fall and the offseason, building momentum and some high expectations.
It paid dividends in the form of a hot start as Coe won its first nine games on a trip to Florida.
“We have a bunch of guys who can go out in the field and make a play,” junior Jordan Kaplan said. “Just the overall confidence of the team, coming into the season, has really shown we’re expecting to win every game we play.”
Coe (17-2, 7-1 A-R-C) is hitting .332, which is 15 points higher than the next best conference team (Simpson). The Kohawks also lead the league with 151 runs. Cook said the team does a lot of things well, but doesn’t have one signature strength to rely on to win games. They have to adjust and adapt in games.
“It’s just finding which way we can win that day offensively once we establish we’re going to pitch well and play good defense,” said Cook, adding, “I feel like I’ve coached games where our pitching and defense has controlled the game.”
Coe owns a team ERA of 2.94, almost a half-run better than any other conference staff, and limits opposing batters to a .222 average. Combine that with a defense fielding at a .975 clip.
“We knew pitching and hitting would be a strong suit of ours,” said Kaplan, who ranks among the league leaders and is second on the team with 17 RBIs and 40 total bases. “We wanted to make sure we took care of things defensively based on the fact we’ve been at the bottom of the conference the past couple years and we wanted to turn that into something different.
“It’s clear this year we are going to make plays and we’re going to help our pitchers out so they don’t feel the need to strike everybody out. They can pitch to contact, get ahead of hitters and we’ll make sure the defense is there to help.”
Three Kohawks are among the A-R-C’s top-10 in batting. Cameron Frazier and Riley Legrand are hitting over .400, while Jacob Burns is 10th with a .378 average, leading all Kohawks who have started every game. Burns is second in the league with 21 RBIs and also is tops in total bases (41) for Coe.
“He’s had a nice career here,” Cook said. “This half, he’s really stepped up and been our main guy in the middle of our order and that’s been a role that has been different for us.”
Zach Kammin, who has returned to a starting role, is 4-1 as Coe’s ace. Jack Greene is 3-0 for the Kohawks. Kammin has 36 strikeouts in 26 1/3 innings pitched, tying for second in the A-R-C. He tallied 17 strikeouts in a win over Nebraska Wesleyan on Mar. 31.
“He chucks it,” Cook said. “He’s going to continue to be good. He’s got this year and next year for eligibility and people are going to know him a lot better through this spring and into next year.”
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Coe has held one home game so far and finds itself on the road again against the Knights (6-15, 3-5). Don’t let the record fool you. The Kohawks have their hands full with Wartburg.
“They are going to be a tough test,” Cook said. “They have some good players there. We don’t expect anything less than having to fight for everything this weekend.”
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