CEDAR RAPIDS — Coe baseball coach Steve Cook spoke with his team in January.
He guessed he gave the same speech that every other college baseball coach recited to players. The message consisted of potential for a deep postseason run. Unlike many of the other skippers, he watched the Kohawks prove him right and earn a chance to compete for a national title in their own backyard.
“I’m not sure I can put my finger on when it exactly happened,” Cook said. “At some point, they almost moved to an expectation that it would happen, meaning in confidence that it was possible. If they played well, they believed they had a chance or as good as any team we played.
“I think that’s what this season and winning 30-plus games does to you. The belief just grows.”
Coe qualified for an NCAA Division III Super Regional against 15th-ranked Birmingham-Southern at Striplin Field in Birmingham, Ala., beginning Friday at 4:30 p.m. The winner of the best-of-3 series advances to the D-III World Series on May 31-June 5 at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids.
“The World Series has been our goal all year,” Coe outfielder Riley LeGrand said. “Hopefully, we can get it done.”
The 17th-ranked Kohawks (37-6) will try to extend an already special season that includes a school record in victories, surpassing the old mark of 34 in 2015, and the American Rivers Conference regular-season title. Cook sees a similarity between his team and the Panthers (37-13).
“They look a lot like us in a lot of ways,” said Cook, noting it will be like playing regional foe Washington (Mo.) University. “You have to figure out how to make more plays than them and win that day. I really don’t think it’s about evaluating whether we’re a better team or not. It’s whether or not we’re going to find a way to win.”
Coe’s success will rely on a total team effort that has propelled it as far into the postseason as ever. The balanced production that allowed it to lead the A-R-C in batting, pitching and fielding, will be a necessity this weekend.
Offensively, Cook likes his lineup, knowing any of his batters can come through at any time. The Kohawks have received key contributions from the entire lineup.
“It is a nice thing to have,” LeGrand said. “Everybody has been able to step up in a certain situation.”
LeGrand was the latest such Kohawk. He was at the plate with two outs and two strikes as Coe trailed by one in the top of the ninth of the regional final against host Washington. Perfect time for his first home run of the season.
“I was just hoping it would get over the center fielder’s head,” LeGrand said. “Just hoping to be able to get the run in.”
LeGrand, who leads the Kohawks in hitting, bats second in the order. His clutch hit wasn’t the surprise but touching them all was unexpected. The blast drove in T.J. Johnson, who also earned the save.
“I wouldn’t have believed it,” Cook said with a laugh. “I’m a man of percentages and they weren’t in the same room of that happening. The one thing I did believe, though, was Riley had a way of getting a hit.
“He has a lot of ways to get singles … that was where my belief was at. He was very capable of being able to tie the game.”
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Cook also mentioned that the regional was filled with strong performances, including defensive play by Jacob Henry at third base, hitting from Kevin DeLaney and solid pitching, anchored by ace Zach Kammin, who started the opener and earned the championship win in relief.
“That’s what is interesting to me and fun to coach,” Cook said. “We didn’t have to lean on two guys in our lineup.”
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