Nothing was going right for the Wartburg baseball team at Veteran’s Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
A second inning that featured five Coe singles and a Wartburg error led to an early 6-0 Kohawk lead in the championship round of the Iowa Conference Tournament on Saturday.
To make things worse, the Knights couldn’t even manage a hit against Kohawk starter Drew Arends through five innings.
“Everything that they did was right and what we did was wrong, basically,” head coach Joel Holst said.
Gradually, momentum shifted to Wartburg.
Joe Moen relieved Michael Schinstock in the 3rd and pitched a gem in the final seven innings, giving up just two hits and no runs as his offense slowly came to life and earned him the victory on the mound.
“That’s exactly what we needed,” Holst said. “Our bats finally came through and we started making some plays defensively.”
“I was shaking,” Moen said. “It was really nerve-wracking but we’re the best team in the conference and we showed it with the way we played today.”
Levi Montague hit a soft grounder to the left side of the infield with two outs in the 8th and beat out the throw to first as pinch-runner Chaz Boots scored from third to cap a 7-6 come-from-behind victory that gave the 21st-ranked Knights an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“I like to think of myself as pretty quick,” Montague said. “But then again, it doesn’t show it all the time so I was really just trying to get down the line as quick as I could and make him rush the throw.”
Holst said it seemed like the play was in slow-motion.
“Levi’s got some athleticism for a bigger kid so I knew he had a shot,” Holst said. “The kid came up and made a nice play so I had my fingers crossed.”
Montauge finished 2-for-3 at the plate with two RBI and a run scored.
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Joe Grote, starting for an injured Ryan Powers, got the rally started with a leadoff double in the 6th, Wartburg’s first hit off Arends.
Andrew Krehbiel brought Grote home with an RBI double, Ryan Doty added an RBI ground out to score Craig Kerper and Krehbiel scored on a Drew Yoder sac fly to cut the Kohawk lead in half.
After another 1-2-3 inning from Moen, the Knight’s bats picked up right where they left off.
Tony Stenberg led off with a single and Montague ripped a triple over the right fielder’s head. Immediately after, Jake Raecker brought home Montague with an RBI double to cut the lead to one.
Then the guy who had only played in five games coming into the tournament came up huge again. Grote’s RBI single scored Raecker, who had advanced to third on an error, to tie the score at six.
“It shows what kind of team we really are that we can battle, we can come back,” Montague said.
Raecker and Grote were each 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run.
Drew Yoder led off the 8th inning with a single and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Boots replaced him and then advanced to third on another wild pitch.
After two straight outs, Montague hustled down the line to ensure the go-ahead run would score.
Moen shut down the second-seeded Kohawks in the 9th and the Knights won their third straight one-run game, all in the IIAC Tournament.
“There’s a lot of pressure but you gotta shake that off,” Moen said. “I had to go in the tunnel and try to stay calm. You just gotta go out there and do your job, keep throwing strikes.”
Grote made a catch falling down in foul territory to seal the victory as the dugout cleared onto the field to celebrate the Knight’s first conference tournament championship since 2009.
The NCAA Selection Show, when the Knights find out who, when and where they will play, will take place Monday.
The Knights head into the NCAA Tournament battered and bruised.
Blake Wilson had to leave the game in the 3rd inning after he appeared to re-injure his wrist. His status was not immediately known after the game. Powers will not play the rest of the season.
“We’re limping a little bit, there’s no doubt,” Holst said. “It will take some special performances like we had today when you step up in terms of competition. I wish we were full-force but we’re not so we’ll find a way to compete and do a good job.”
“We’re not satisfied with this,” Montague said. “We want more.”