Opportunistic ’Cats pounce on CF
CEDAR FALLS – It’s not always how the games are started. Sometimes, a slow start can be made up for by a better finish.
That is exactly what happened to the Marshalltown baseball team on Friday night during its Class 4A Substate 3 opener against Cedar Falls.
The Bobcats trailed 5-0 before they even strolled to the plate, but put together 12 hits offensively and took advantage of 10 Tiger errors during a 9-6 come-from-behind win at Robinson-Dresser Sports Complex.
“We prepare for a lot of things, but we don’t prepare to be down 5-0 after a half inning,” MHS coach Steve Hanson said. “The key to the game for us was that our guys were resilient enough to keep plugging, keep chipping away and keep giving us a chance to have a chance.”
One of the big reasons the Bobcats had a chance through the final six innings was because of senior ace pitcher Blake Judkins, who gave up just one run over the final six frames in helping Marshalltown advance to Monday’s substate semifinal against No. 6 Cedar Rapids Prairie.
“It definitely wasn’t the way I wanted things to start out,” said Judkins, who struck out four and stranded seven Tigers on the bases. “I just had to stay mentally tough and keep throwing strikes. I had to give my team a chance to win, and they definitely picked me up and got the bats going.”
Marshalltown (17-24) came into the game having lost eight of its previous nine games and was just 2-11 in the last 13 games. Cedar Falls (21-14) though ended its season with five straight defeats.
Second-seeded and sixth-ranked Cedar Rapids Prairie (26-12) advanced to Monday’s substate semifinal after its 9-3 win over fifth-seeded Waterloo West.
Top-seeded and 10th ranked Cedar Rapids Xavier (24-15) also stayed alive after its 8-3 victory over sixth-seeded Waterloo East. Xavier gets a bye in the next round and will play the Marshalltown-Prairie winner on Wednesday for the right to go to the Iowa High School State Baseball Tournament.
“You can’t expect to be as inefficient as we were in the first inning and still win in the postseason,” Hanson said. “We have to clean up a lot of stuff before Monday night.
“We had a lot of guys that really swung it tonight. I was pleased with that. He (Michael Kuntz) was a good pitcher and we knew that. We need to take that same philosophy and use it Monday against Cedar Rapids Prairie.”
The Bobcats collected 12 hits against Cedar Falls starter Kuntz, who came into the game with a 2.40 earned run average.
After Judkins allowed three hits and MHS committed two of its three errors in the first frame, the Bobcats rallied in their half of the first. Ryan Mitchell’s infield single was followed by Grant Thimesch’s RBI triple. Hunter Hillygus then plated Thimesch with a run-scoring single to make it 5-2.
The Bobcats scored an unearned run in the second thanks to the Tigers’ first error of the game. Cedar Falls had five errors in the fourth inning to help Marshalltown take a 6-5 lead. Hillygus’ RBI single was one of three hits for the Bobcats as well.
Clint Fletcher doubled and then scored on a Chris Balthazor single to tie the game at 6-all in the fifth.
The Bobcats went back to work at the plate though.
Michael Schrempf led off the fifth with a single and then moved up two bases on back-to-back sacrifice bunts by Colton Hanke and Dylan Diveney. Austin Sowers’ two-out RBI hit scored Schrempf and Mitchell followed with an RBI double to plate Sowers. Mitchell eventually scored on another Cedar Falls error to put the Bobcats up by three runs.
Marshalltown scored its final six runs with two outs.
“We have been preparing all week for the velocity,” Mitchell said. “We knew it was coming. We just kept fighting on those last outs.”
The Tigers had three more miscues in the field in the fifth inning, including two errant throws on attempted pick-off plays at first base. Four of the 10 Tiger errors came on throwing miscues to first base.
“Another key was our ability to hold runners on and their inability to hold runners on,” Hanson said. “The constant repetition helped us. We can throw it to first base without it going to the screen. Those were big extra bases for us.”
Judkins evened his record at 5-5 after the win. He allowed just six hits over the final six innings and credited his success to getting ahead early in the counts.
“The defense made some good plays to get me out of some jams,” said Judkins, who stranded the bases loaded in the top of the seventh. “It was a total team effort.”
Kuntz (5-4) took the loss for Cedar Falls. He allowed all nine runs but only three were earned. Balthazor, who had three hits and three RBIs at the plate, came on in relief in the fifth inning and allowed no runs on one hit and three walks.
Thimesch was on base four times for the Bobcats. He had two hits, a walk and scored twice in the victory.
“He is scrappy. He does the little things right,” Mitchell said of the Bobcat sophomore. “He runs the bases well, he bunts, gives us timely hits and he is really valuable to our team.”
The Bobcats’ game Monday will be at Cedar Rapids Prarie. First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m.