West Marshall eludes Tigers once more

STORY CITY – West Marshall’s hardest-hit balls were its downfall.

The flares, the lazy fly balls and the slow-rollers in the infield turned out to be the Trojans’ best weapons against South Hardin’s once-again-suspect defense.

West Marshall made it 4-for-4 against their North Iowa Cedar League West Division foes this season, sweeping South Hardin thanks to a 13-3, six-inning victory in Saturday’s opening round of Class 2A District 5 baseball.

The Trojans (19-13) earn themselves a fourth shot at NICL West champion East Marshall (25-7), which received a first-round bye and beat West Marshall in each of three regular-season meetings. The cross-county rivals will square off Tuesday at 5 p.m. back at Norseman Field, but West Marshall had to work from behind to gain that opportunity.

South Hardin (2-20) turned a pair of two-out walks in the top of the second inning into two runs when Dane Butler sliced a double to the gap in right-center field.

But by the time the Tigers got on the scoreboard again, West Marshall had taken the upper hand. A seven-run eruption in the bottom of the third gave the Trojans an 8-2 lead, and they finally finished off South Hardin by scoring twice more in the fourth and fifth innings and again in the sixth.

Seven South Hardin errors, coupled with five walks and two hit batsmen from freshman right-hander Ty Cook, took the Tigers out of contention yet again.

“(One big inning) let us down again,” said Tigers coach Dick Shindelar. “They started off that big inning and their number nine hitter shocked us a little bit with that double, and there were a couple errors that inning that extended it and we could have been out of there.”

Brady Petermeier’s leadoff double to left-center was followed by a walk to Ross Randall, a bunt single by Alex Billman and a two-run single for Nolan Sinning. Jared Johnson and Matt Van Metre both walked, and Chandler Sponseller’s single plated another run for the Trojans.

A dropped fly ball off the bat of Garrett Nichols made it 7-2, and a double steal got Sponseller across for an 8-2 West Marshall advantage.

Randall, who went the distance for the win, settled down after the offensive outburst and allowed only two more hits. He allowed four hits and finished with seven strikeouts while walking three and hitting another. Three of South Hardin’s four runs came on free passes.

“Every game’s a new game,” said West Marshall coach Jerod Brown. “You can’t take anybody for granted. The best team doesn’t always win. The team that plays the best is going to win.

“You have to control what you can control. We were focused more on answering back, to come back right away.”

A pair of West Marshall errors allowed South Hardin’s Zach Shore to score after reaching on a leadoff walk in the fourth, but a double play turned by Sponseller at third ended the inning.

Not to be outdone, South Hardin prolonged the game by getting out of a bases-loaded jam in a 12-3 game in the bottom of the fifth by turning a triple play. Tigers shortstop Sam Shindelar snared Johnson’s line drive, chased down Alex Billman with a diving tag at second base, then threw to Cody Haley at home to catch courtesy-runner Beau Coberley trying to end the game via 10-run rule.

“That’s the first one I’ve seen,” Coach Shindelar said. “That’s pretty special. We were down to the last run and we could have just cashed it in, so it’s just neat to see that happen.”

South Hardin also turned a double play in the first inning on a line drive off the bat of Billman, but the Tigers struggled to make routine plays otherwise. Only seven of West Marshall’s 13 runs came earned to Cook, who allowed 10 hits, five walks and two hit batters while striking out three.

Sinning and Johnson both finished 2-for-3 with a double, two runs scored and two RBIs for West Marshall. Billman was 2-for-4 with a double and two runs, while Sponseller was 1-for-4 with two RBIs. Petermeier scored twice and Nichols was 1-for-4 with a run. Cody Burns, who set the school’s single-season record for being hit by pitches when he was plunked twice in this game, scored a run.

Butler and Jordan Wilkie both doubled for South Hardin, while Haley and Ryan Mossman had singles. Shore walked twice and scored twice, while Hunter Edgerton was plunked and scored on Butler’s double.

West Marshall will now try to avenge three losses to East Marshall that came by a combined 17-7, though one was an 8-7 affair in their final meeting in league play.

“They know everything about us and we know everything about them,” said Brown. “We’ve played so many times over the years, it really comes down to who plays the best on Tuesday, who does the best job executing and making the most plays.”