Finally playing at home, MCC splits with Muscatine

Playing a home game at Shawn Williams Field had been elusive for the Marshalltown Community College baseball team this season.

The home opener was scheduled to take place March 21 against NIACC but cold and rainy conditions forced a postponement. A doubleheader with Kirkwood on March 27 and a nine-inning game on April 9 also were supposed to be home games but those were postponed as well.

Finally playing at home Saturday, the Tigers got a strong pitching performance from Jake Whaley and big production from the top of their lineup in a 6-3 win over Muscatine Community College in the opener.

But the Cardinals bounced back in the nightcap, holding Marshalltown to three hits in a 3-2 victory.

“It is not what we wanted, but their pitcher did a nice job against us in that second game,” Marshalltown CC coach Rich Grife said. “To hold us to two runs on a day like this is a good day for him. He pitched well.”

The he who Grife is referring to is Gavin Collins. The Muscatine starter got the win after getting all but one out against the Tigers (11-13, 3-7). He fanned 11 and surrendered just three hits and two earned runs.

Two of those hits came from Daryl Blaskovich. The other was collected by Andrew Utterback, who highlighted the first game with a solo home run.

In the two games, MCC’s top three hitters produced nine of the 13 hits. William Salas, the Tigers’ leadoff hitter, had three hits and scored two runs in the opener, while Ty Russell went 3-for-4 with three RBIs in the No. 3 hole. Blaskovich’s two hits produced both runs scored by MCC in the second game, as well.

“They were very good,” Grife said of his 1-3 hitters. “We are starting to go up and down the lineup better. We just need to play. The weather has been tough, and we haven’t really been able to figure things out up there. Those first three guys did a great job. They have all year and they will continue to do that.”

Clean-up hitter Justen Folger came into the game as the team’s top RBI producer but went 0-for-7 against the Cardinals (8-20, 2-8). He came up to the plate in the bottom of the seventh in the second game with two outs and the bases loaded and his team down 3-2. The game ended after he swung through strike three.

“We had a chance there to put one or two across,” Grife said. “One swing and it is two different stories and we probably win both games. But that is the way it goes sometimes.”

Marshalltown ace Jake Whaley started and earned the win on the mound in the opener. Whaley threw into the sixth inning, struck out eight and allowed two earned runs on two hits. He walked five but improved to 3-3 on the season. Whaley threw a no-hitter against the Cardinals last year.

“Jake was all right today,” Grife said. “It wasn’t his best but it was still pretty good. He has some things that he is working on, and once he gets those things figured out, he’ll be back to dominant.”

Marshalltown’s Zach Throckmorten got the final four outs to earn the save. He struck out three of the four batters he faced. Lucas Kemp allowed six earned runs for the Cardinals and took the loss.

The Tigers were forced to use a committee of pitchers in the second game after expected starter Corey Ceponis was held up in the training room prior to the game. Grife started Tanner Smith and also used Brett Baker and Ron Gombos in relief.

Smith and Baker combined to throw the first two innings before Gombos tossed the final five. He allowed two runs, including a sixth-inning home run, and was given the loss.

“(Gombos) is our third starter anyway and he was ready to go,” Grife said. “I just reversed it with him pitching the final five instead of the first five. We just have to cash in some opportunities at the plate. Otherwise, Ron probably gets the win.”

The same two teams will go at it again today starting at noon. Ceponis will get the ball in the opener, while Ben Ryder is slated to pitch the second game.

The Tigers got on the board first Saturday after Salas recorded a two-out triple and then scored on an RBI single by Russell in the third.

Back-to-back walks by Whaley in the fourth led to the Cardinals’ first runs of the game. Jalen Hashbarger broke up Whaley’s no-hit bid with a two-run double that gave Muscatine the lead.

Utterback knotted the game at 2 in the Tigers’ half of the fourth when he went deep off Kemp. The sophomore captain nearly blasted a home run in the second, flying out to the warning track in center field.

The Tigers put the game away in the fifth with three runs. Austin Allen, Salas and Blaskovich all recorded hits that did not leave the infield – an infield single and two bunt singles – before Russell’s two-run hit made it 4-2. Tyler Evans’ sac fly scored Blaskovich to give the Tigers a commanding lead.

Bennett Mann’s RBI triple in the sixth scored Luke Wichmann, who started the frame by reaching on an error. That finalized the scoring for MCC.

Muscatine grabbed the lead in the second game following a home run by Alex Bradley in the second inning. The Cardinals added a second run in the third off Gombos and then won it with a Jake Redlinger blast in the sixth.

The Tigers only had three hits in the loss and the first came in the third when Blaskovich laced a two-run single to tie it.

The Cardinal pitchers struck out at least two MCC hitters in an inning five times in the second game. Collins was a part of four of those and then he and Butler each fanned a hitter in the seventh.

For the most part, Grife liked what he saw Saturday and hopes to get an even better performance today. The best part about this weekend is the fact that the Tigers finally get to play in front of their home fans.

“Playing at home is nice,” Grife said. “We played pretty clean today. We just need to come back and play well tomorrow.”