Controversy overshadows Spartan triumph
GRUNDY CENTER – Jordan Clapp has played in a lot of varsity baseball games for the Grundy Center Spartans.
But in all of his four years on the diamond, he has never been involved in the kind of game that took place at the George E. Wilhelm Sports Complex on Thursday night.
Rallying back from a five-run deficit, Grundy Center pulled off the 8-6, nine-inning upset over arch rival Gladbrook-Reinbeck and Clapp’s three hits and five RBIs at the plate and his save on the mound provided the Spartans’ biggest punch in the Class 1A District 5 semifinal.
But the strong effort of both teams may have been overshadowed by a few controversial plays.
With the game tied at 6-all, senior Bryce Moats began the ninth inning with a single but appeared to be doubled off first base when Grant Weldon’s bunt attempt was caught just in front of the mound by Rebel senior Marco Barron.
However, while both teams were making their way into their respective dugouts, the home plate umpire stopped the game and changed the call, saying Weldon stepped out of the box while making contact with the ball. That meant Weldon was automatically out and Moats remained at first on the dead ball.
After Moats stole second, the next batter was Clapp and his fifth RBI of the night gave the Spartans the lead for good and then Clapp came around to score another run on Jared Clapp’s RBI single.
“I didn’t know anything until I was given an explanation at the end,” said Grundy Center coach Jacob Grafenberg. “Basically, our batter stepped out of the box when he hit the ball, which makes him automatically out and the runner got to stay at first.
“Jordan is our go-to guy on the plate and on the mound and our two seniors stepped up tonight and played a hell of a ball game and did everything we needed to do. They didn’t want to go out, especially to our biggest rival.”
Gladbrook-Reinbeck coach Jeff Charley didn’t see the home plate official signal for a dead ball on the play. And neither did the base umpire.
“He just said that he called a dead ball because the batter stepped out of the box and he said he made the call right from the beginning,” said Charley. “I questioned the base umpire because he didn’t act on it until the players were already heading to the dugout. Then the home plate umpire changed his mind. I never saw his hands go up and the umpire on the field said his hands never went up.”
The Spartans (12-16) will now play Janesville (20-4) in the district final in Grundy Center at 7 p.m. Saturday. The Wildcats survived an upset bid from AGWSR (9-20), rallying from a 5-0 deficit to win 9-5.
The ninth inning was controversial but the rest of the game had its crazy moments as well.
Each team stranded the bases loaded in an at-bat and both teams made superb defensive plays to extend the game.
In the first inning, Moats was thrown out at home by Camden Kickbush to keep the game scoreless and then a 6-3-5 double play for the Rebels helped starter Cameron Murphy out of a jam.
The Rebels (21-10) made another out at home in the sixth inning to preserve a 5-3 lead.
The Spartans also got Moats out of a jam in the eighth. Brady Kuehl drew a one-out walk and his pinch-runner Colton Dinsdale was sent home on an error by Spartan center fielder Austin Burroughs. However, Burroughs stayed with the play, hit Clapp with a relay throw at shortstop and Clapp’s bullet to the plate was in time as Jared Clapp applied the tag.
“That saved the game. Austin is a great ball player and he has a lot of heart,” said Grafenberg. “Yeah, he dropped the ball, but he made up for it and continued to play. He made a good throw to Jordan and then the relay throw was right to the catcher for the out.”
The favored Rebels, who took two of three from the Spartans and finished in second place in the North Iowa Cedar League West Division during the regular season, plated two runs in the second inning thanks to an RBI triple from Joe Smoldt and an RBI groundout by Josh Cooley.
The first five Rebel hitters reached base and three of them scored in the third to push the advantage to 5-0. Logan Flamme and Cooley both had RBI hits in the inning to give the home team on the scoreboard a comfortable cushion.
But Gladbrook-Reinbeck managed just one other run the rest of the way. Kickbush walked and scored on an RBI single by Bryce Ehlers in the sixth, but the Rebels left six on base in the game and couldn’t contain Jordan Clapp at the plate.
Clapp’s two-out, two-run single in the fifth drew the Spartans to within 5-3 and then his two-run triple in the seventh made it 6-5. He tied the game one batter later after scoring on a passed ball and then came up with the game-winning hit in the ninth.
“It took a big effort by the team to get it done. We just executed at the end when we needed it the most,” said Jordan Clapp. “This is a big rivalry and it was good to move on and shut them out. This win was huge. It means a lot to all of us.”
A pair of sophomores started on the mound but neither factored into the decision.
Murphy threw the first six innings for G-R and then Charley gave the ball to his only senior – Marco Barron – to try to close it out in the seventh.
Barron gave up three runs in the frame, including the Clapp two-run triple and was handed his first loss of the season. But Charley felt his senior’s rhythm may have been disrupted following a mid-inning discussion between the base umpire and a Grundy Center assistant coach.
“It was from the officiating more than anything. Their assistant coach stops the play because he said our right fielder was saying something,” Charley explained. “I asked them both if they heard anything and neither one said they did. I wasn’t sure why we were discussing it if neither one of them heard it.”
Garrett Weldon started for Grundy Center but only made it to the third inning. Austin Burroughs relieved him and made it to the sixth when he was taken out with one out in favor of Moats, the normal Spartan closer. Moats gave up an RBI single to Ehlers in the sixth but got the win after holding G-R scoreless until Jordan Clapp locked down the victory with the save in the ninth inning.
“We did what we needed to do, and it’s because they have a ton of heart and they wanted this one so bad,” said Grafenberg.
The loss ended the Rebels’ four-game win streak. It was the third straight win for Grundy Center. … The Rebels beat the Spartans 14-2 on June 12 before splitting with their rivals on June 30. … Grundy Center came into the game with a team earned run average of 5.40 and a team batting average of .253 but will still play in the district final on their home turf Saturday.