CEDAR FALLS – There was no comeback needed for the Marshalltown baseball team this time around against Cedar Falls.
Austin Sowers delivered an early punch with a second-inning homer, Marshalltown kept the Tigers on the ropes with a third-inning suicide squeeze and Dylan Diveney delivered the knockout blow on the mound as the Bobcats eliminated Class 4A No. 7 Cedar Falls, 7-2, during 4A Substate 2 semifinal action at the Robinson-Dresser Sports Complex.
The Bobcats knocked out the Tigers for the second straight season. But this time around, they didn’t have to rally from an early 5-0 hole and were in complete control throughout the entire seven innings.
“It all starts on the mound with whoever we roll out there,” said Marshalltown coach Steve Hanson. “Dylan is a unique competitor and he was very, very good tonight. You give Diveney a lead and a chance to go get a win, and I like his chances.”
The Bobcats gave Diveney (5-2) an early 5-0 lead, and the senior pitcher allowed just three hits and two walks while fanning nine in helping the Bobcats to Wednesday’s substate final against top-seeded and eighth-ranked Southeast Polk.
Both runs by Cedar Falls came in the third inning and each were scored with two outs.
“We worked really hard to get a five-run lead and they got two right back,” said Hanson. “The momentum kind of swung to them at that point, but we got the shut down inning and were able to expand the lead and get into their bullpen a lot.”
The Bobcats (23-17) tagged Tiger starter Michael Kuntz for six runs and he was pulled in the fifth in favor of Chris Balthazor, who started on the mound against Waterloo East last Friday. He surrendered the seventh run before Brady Corson tossed a scoreless 1 1/3 innings for the Tigers.
Sowers got the Bobcat offense going in the second inning when he sent his first homer of the year over the fence in left field.
“His is a good athlete and he loves to play and is not afraid to play,” said Hanson. “You get guys like that, and it’s contagious. The bigger the stage and the better Austin gets. Hopefully that can continue.
“We’ve had excellent success here, but I don’t think we walked in here as the favorite. It’s their park, it’s their advantage and they are the home team, but to get ahead on the Sowers’ home run was a big deal. Then when we tacked on three more in the next inning, I think that took some wind out of their sails.”
The three-run third inning was kickstarted by a suicide squeeze bunt from Grant Thimesch.
Diveney drew a one-out walk and then stole second before taking third on a wild pitch. He scored easily on Thimesch’s squeeze bunt and Joe Rebik and Sowers both followed with RBI hits to make it 5-0.
“There are a handful of plays in a game that determine momentum and that was certainly one of them,” said Hanson of the suicide squeeze. “You have to execute that play when you have the opportunity to do so. We have a lot of guys that can execute that play. We are not a huge suicide squeeze team, but we were able to execute it there.”
Hunter Schiefelbein drew a two-out walk to start the Tigers’ rally in the third inning and Cedar Falls’ first two hits of the game followed. Future Iowa Hawkeye JT Sole put the home team on the board with a two-out, two-run double to the gap in left-center field.
But the Tigers managed just one more hit – an infield single in the sixth – the rest of the way off Diveney. The future Central Dutch’s nine strikeouts were a season high.
“I couldn’t put the recipe together. Every move I tried to make just didn’t work,” said Cedar Falls coach Jack Sole. “We hit well all season, but we have to give (Diveney) credit. He kept us off balance and the zone was for him today and not for us.”
Thimesch smoked a one-out double in the fifth to chase Kuntz. Rebik then greeted Balthazor with an RBI double down the third-base line on his first pitch and he came around to score on a two-out RBI single by Sowers.
Sowers finished with three hits and four RBIs, while Rebik added two hits, two runs and two RBIs in the win.
The Bobcats are at their best when they win the running game, win the bunt game and get strikes from their pitchers and all three happened Monday against Cedar Falls.
“We were able to tack on and tack on and get into the bullpen,” said Hanson. “A 27-win team won’t go down easily and they didn’t, but Diveney just didn’t give them many chances after that third inning.
“If you can win the running game and win the bunt game, and throw strikes, you have a chance against whoever you’re playing. Our guys did a good job of that tonight.”
Cedar Falls (27-11) has now had its season ended at home by Marshalltown three times since 2010. The Tigers also suffered five of their 11 losses in the month of July and four have come in the past 10 days.
“They didn’t overlook Marshalltown. They knew Marshalltown was a good team,” said Coach Sole of his Tiger squad. “They were very hungry, but we just didn’t get it done. There are a lot of tears and emotion right now. That just shows how much it meant to them.”
The Rams swept the Bobcats, 12-0 and 8-1, back on July 2, and Hanson knows his team will have to play better than it did on that night if it wants to punch a ticket to its first state tournament since 2009.
“They are a very talented team. We got beat up the last time we played them and if that worries our guys then we are dead before we start,” said Hanson. “I don’t think our guys will do that. We’ll go play and give it our best effort and maybe we’ll surprise some people like we did tonight.”
The Bobcats trailed Cedar Falls 5-0 in last year’s opening round of substate before rallying back to win 9-6, thanks in part to 10 Cedar Falls errors. … JT Sole was originally committed to play baseball at Indiana State but made the switch to Iowa when Rick Heller resigned from Indiana State and took the job in Iowa City. … The Bobcats are now 5-11 against 4A ranked teams and 6-13 overall. … It was Marshalltown’s fifth win in its last six games.