DES MOINES — After losing five seniors from last year’s 2A state-qualifying squad, the Denver baseball team surprised a lot of people by making a return trip to Des Moines with a young roster in 2017.
Unfortunately, exceeding people’s expectations didn’t make Monday’s first-round exit any less disappointing.
Dyersville Beckman forced Denver starter Zach Miller into a 40-pitch first inning, and the top-seeded Trailblazers kept the pressure on throughout, earning a 7-1 win over the Cyclones in the opening round of the Class 2A state tournament at Principal Park in Des Moines.
Miller had three first-inning walks, all of them with two outs and two with the bases loaded, as the Blazers built a 2-0 lead.
Cyclone Coach Dustin Rewerts said Beckman’s ability to fight off two-strike pitches and keep at-bats going at length was the biggest difference in the outcome.
“With two strikes they’d fight everything off,” he said. “We’d throw off-speed and they’d fight it off, we’d throw change-up and they’d fight it off, we’d come back with a fastball and they’d fight it off. They put together a ton of tough at-bats and when they do that, it racks up the pitch count in a hurry.”
“When they start fouling off pitches left and right, it makes it hard on a pitcher because you really have to dig into your box of tools to figure out what you’re going to use,” added Miller, who went over the state’s allotted 110-pitch count in the fifth inning.
Denver was able to stick around for awhile. After leading off the second inning with a single, Timmy Arians scored on a Blazer error to get the Cyclones within 2-1.
Denver then had an ideal chance to tie the score in the top of the third. After walking and getting to second, Carter Herbst looked to have an easy route to the plate when Blazer left fielder Colin Koelker bobbled a Brock Farley single.
But Rewerts said he didn’t see the bobble and held Herbst at third with two outs. That proved costly as Herbst was stranded and Beckman pitcher Jackson Bennett proceeded to retire the next 10 batters.
“Their outfielders had good arms so I didn’t want to run on them,” Rewerts said. “I thought he was going to field it clean so I stopped him, probably a little too late. I thought it was the right call until he bobbled it and obviously it wasn’t.”
Beckman proceeded to blow things open in the bottom of the third. Following a Nate Funke RBI groundout, Mark Brown blasted a two-run single to push the lead to 5-1.
Brown’s single was the only RBI hit of the day for the Blazers, who added two more runs on a groundout and an error in the sixth.
Though the Cyclones, who finished the year 18-15, saw their season end in disappointment, their future looks bright as they lose just one senior starter from this year’s team.
“We’re going to be hungry,” Miller said. “We’ve got a taste of it and hopefully we can turn it into a tradition where state’s a thing to go to. Now we’ll have just that much more experience going into it and maybe we’ll feel a little bit more comfortable next year.”
With that added experience, players are confident they can reach even greater heights in 2018.
“I’m happy where we finished, but we could have done better,” said Arians, who had two of Denver’s four hits Monday. “We’re (aiming) high next season. We’re hoping and planning on making it back.”
Beckman 7, Denver 1
Denver 010 000 0 — 1 4 1
Beckman 203 002 x — 7 10 2
Miller, Phelps (6) and Eagle. Bennett, McDermott (7) and Vaske. WP—Bennett (7-0). LP—Miller (7-4). 3B—Vaske (B).