WAVERLY — Sometimes the smallest part of a baseball game becomes the biggest play to decide the winner.
Thursday night, the Waverly-Shell Rock coaching staff detected a small crack in the armor of Cedar Falls offense, and took advantage of an opportunity that helped knock off the Tigers in an exciting 5-4 non-conference victory.
The Go-Hawks had just rallied to take the lead, 5-4, in the bottom of the sixth, but the Tigers began a rally of their own in the seventh.
Senior Austin Marchesani reached base via a walk with one out, then surrendered his base to a pinch runner. One out later, a rundown began on a play at first, and the Tigers were suddenly done.
“I have to give all the credit to coach (Jared) Pirkl on that call,” Go-Hawks skipper Casey Klunder said. “He noticed the kid leaning on the pitch before and called out for the pick-off. The play was perfect but we had to really work hard for that 21st out, because the ball exchange hands multiple times during the run down.”
Six times to be exact with the final ball handler being Ryan Willis who applied the tag on the worn down runner.
“Hats off to Ryan for taking charge there and calling for the ball,” Klunder said. “That play took like 15 minutes and it lasted way too long.”
With the tag being the final out the Go-Hawks had plenty to celebrate. Not only did the victory give them a 22-8 mark, it also gave them the confidence they need going into the final two games of the regular season.
“We have the utmost respect for Cedar Falls and their program,” Klunder said. “We always get up for this game because we are going against such a great program and coaching staff. It is always a fun game to play in, and tonight my hat goes off to Brady Leonard. He pitched a great game and had the game winning hit. I believe he is 3-1 right now, but we are 8-1 with him as a starter.”
The hit came in the sixth inning with the Go-Hawks trailing 4-3.
Ryan Willis began the frame reaching base by an error, and Luke Willis advanced him with a walk.
Hunter Destival delivered a shot out to left field that scored Ryan Willis, putting Luke at third.
Leonard came to the plate and drove the ball deep enough to center field to plate Luke Willis with the eventual winning run.
“I thought I could get one deep enough to score him (Luke),” Leonard said. “When I saw it go that deep I had no doubt he was going to score. I did not think that it would be the winning run, because CF was coming up to bat and they already had eight hits in the game. It wasn’t over yet and anything can happen.”
The Tigers (16-14-1) came up short with their rally, as the Go-Hawks (22-8) executed their pick-off chance to perfection.
“I felt pretty confident in my abilities to throw and knew that Cedar Falls can hit the ball,” added Leonard. “I just went out with the mentality that I would throw my game and let my defense come up with the plays, and they came up with some big ones.”
The Tigers missed their chances to add to their 4-3 lead in the fifth inning as Connor Schultz stroked a triple with two outs, but the bats failed to bring him across. Cedar Falls also stranded another runner in scoring position in the third.
“This was kind of like a tune up game for us to get ready for next week,” Tigers coach Nick Klein said. “We did not do some things well, and we are not playing very good baseball right now.”
The Tigers have hit a slump of sorts as they have dropped eight of their last 10 games.
“Waverly is a good team and we just did not finish the game well,” Klein said. “We have to learn to finish these games to win.”
Waverly-SR 5, Cedar Falls 4
Cedar Falls 001 300 0—4 8 1
Waverly-Shell Rock 003 002 x—5 9 1
Bauer, Paxson (5) and Sole. Leonard and Destival. 3B—Schultz (CF). 2B—Little (WSR).