BY COLIN MAGNUSON
RADIO KEOKUK Sports Director
DES MOINES – On the 30th anniversary of the Central Lee Hawks winning a baseball state championships, hopes for a feat repeat were dashed in a matter of moments on Monday afternoon at the Class 2A state quarterfinals in Des Moines.
Central Lee put the pressure on offensively and held multiple leads but untimely errors ended up bringing the Hawks’ historic season to an end as Des Moines Christian handed Central Lee only it’s third loss of the year 9-7, but the one that will send the Hawks home.
All season long Central Lee has prided itself on being a fundamentally sound team. At the plate, the Hawks took just 60 strikeouts which was 55 fewer walks than the team that had the second fewest in Class 2A. On the mound, the Hawks issued just 57 walks, good for third fewest in 2A. In the field, the black and gold is team that makes the other team hit the ball around you and not by you.
Those fundamental characteristics led the 2019 Central Lee Hawks to a 21-2 overall record entering the Iowa Class 2A State Baseball Tournament Monday at Principal Park in Des Moines. But, ultimately, it was some untimely errors that kept the Hawks from the semifinals.
The game started with senior ace Waylon Weirather on the mound sporting a 0.79 ERA in his final season, while opponents have hit just .197 against him during the season.
After a lead-off walk, Weirather would get three straight outs to hold the Des Moines Christian Lions off the board in the first inning. The Hawks would then get going as they battled the Lions’ go-to-pitcher senior Brett Shelton, who entered the game with a 0.83 ERA. A Sam Hirner walk resulted in a runner in scoring position as ball four got past the catcher and Hirner never stopped running to check in to second with one out. A KJ Skow grounder resulted in a throwing error that allowed Hirner to score to give the Hawks a lead after one.
Waylon pitched around a one-out double in the top of the second to get Central Lee back in the dugout with the lead intact. A Dylan Stuecker two-out single in the bottom of the second inning resulted in another run as TJ Stutes’ double off the glove of Lions center fielder Andrew Fox allowed Stuecker to come in to push the lead to two.
At that point, it looked like the beginnings of another Central Lee runaway. But the Lions had other plans that started in the top of the third. Lead-off hitter Dalton Lewis wore a pitch and Shelton hit an infield single two outs later that appeared as though the ball may have reached first baseman Evan Pohren’s glove before Shelton crossed the bag. Head Coach Shane Weirather didn’t like the call, but felt it shouldn’t have made as big of a difference.
“I thought we may have gotten the pitcher at first base but with two outs and two on, but we’ve still got to find a way to get out of that inning,” Weirather said of the play.
And that inning wouldn’t end until after Lions shortstop Grant Christy belted a two-RBI double down the right field line to tie the game. Frankie Accurso would ground out to third to throw water on the fire with the game tied at 2 all.
The Hawks would go down in order for the first time of the game in the third, but Weirather would face the minimum in the bottom half. Catcher Luke Simmons delivered a dart to second base to throw out an attempted steal after Christian catcher Luke Lehmann was plunked to start the inning.
That’s when the fireworks would start as Jadon Hawk led off the bottom of the fourth with a fly ball that popped out of Fox’s glove in center and was followed up by a single from Alex Sandoval. After a successful double steal by Hawk and Sandoval, Pohren hit an RBI groundout to second to give the Hawks the lead but they weren’t done yet. Stuecker reached on an RBI grounder that was then dropped by the first basemen and TJ Stutes had his second consecutive single to score Stuecker and give Central Lee a 5-2 cushion.
But the Lions continued to find ways to get back in the game. In the top of the fifth, the Hawks got a quick out before Dalton Lewis belted the second of his three hits. The second basemen wasn’t retired once by Hawks pitching on the day.
At that point the errors came fast and furious for the Hawks as a ground ball to Stuecker at third was bounced to Sandoval at second to leave Lewis at second. Then a taylor-made doubleplay ball was hit by Shelton, but Hawk couldn’t get the ball out of his glove at short. Up came Christy, who belted a single with the bases loaded good for two RBI. A throw on Tyler Hopp in center as his throw into second skipped off the base and into short right field to allow Shelton to reach third with one out. RBI singles from Frankie Accurso and Fox would leave the Hawks down 6-5 after five innings.
Weirather felt the errors in the fifth really hurt.
“The four-run inning was a big one. We should have definitely been out of that one with no damage done, but we kicked the ball around a little bit. I think that inning ended up showing on Waylon’s pitch count as well.”
The Hawks would fight back in the bottom half as Luke Simmons reached on a single and his courtesy runner Johnny Snider would steal second and third. Hawk would take a walk and Snider would score on an RBI single from Pohren.
A baserunning gaffe would hurt the Hawks though as they had Hawk at third and Pohren at second when a ball got just by Lions catcher Luke Lehmann who corralled it just behind the circle and Hawk was thrown out by several steps attempting to score on the play. Suddenly, instead of runners and second and third with one out there was only a runner at third with two down. Dylan Stuecker would ground out to third as the Hawks managed just one run in an inning that looked like it would lead to a crooked number on the board for the Hawks.
Des Moines Christian would then get four consecutive one-out hits in the sixth to score a pair and chase Weirather from the game in favor of Hawk as the Lions would take an 8-6 lead.
In the latter half of that inning, TJ Stutes would manufacture a run nearly by himself after taking a full-count walk after falling behind 1-2 and subsequently stealing second and third. Stutes would score on a two-out RBI single to right from KJ Skow.
Coach Weirather said he’s been impressed with his junior right fielder all year, but today he was the Hawks’ best offensive threat.
“He’s great. That’s why we hit him in the number nine spot. I’ve never cared where a batter hits in the lineup, but the truth is we put him there so he can set the table for the top of our lineup.That’s what he’s there for and he did a great job,” Weirather said.
“I knew this pitcher didn’t walk many people so I was ready to jump on a fastball first pitch, every at-bat….. On the basepaths, coach has 100% confidence in us and always gives us the green light so today we made it happen with some stolen bases,” Stutes said.
In the seventh, however, DMC would get one back on triple from Andrew Fox and a sac fly from Adam Witty.
The seventh inning just went to prove that it wasn’t the Hawks’ day. Hawk was retired on a frozen rope that didn’t require shortstop Grant Christy to take a step. Alex Sandoval would then reach on a single to bring the tying run to the plate. Evan Pohren had two RBI’s in his past two at-bats and he barreled another ball to short right field but a shoelace catch by right fielder Cal Matthes ended the game as he doubled off Sandoval who thought the ball had bounced into the glove. The catch was the second time in the game that Matthes robbed a sure base hit from Pohren.
The 9-7 loss was just the third of the year for the Hawks who were successful in 21 contests. Stutes led the Hawks at the plate with two hits while Pohren had two runs batted in to lead the way. Coach Weirather was asked if he thought this group paved the way for a team that will return six starters from this state tournament team.
“Yeah I hope so. I think it will,” he said. “We believed we could do it this year even though we’d never seen it happen. Now it has happened. I saw a lot of young kids in the stands with their town ball uniforms. That was great to see and they can say they saw their high school team go to state. I think this is great for the whole program.”
TJ Stutes will be back next year and while the disappointment was immediately visible he did have a sense of enthusiasm about the future for the Hawks baseball club.
“This is a great season. Seeing how our community reacted to how well we’ve been doing this season, the sendoff, the pep rally, and the huge turnout today, it’s just great to know our community is behind us.”
And this winter, you can bet you’ll see Central Lee Hawks baseball players’ cars in Montrose just as they were last year.
“It’s all about the Montrose Gym. That’s where this all began and that’s where it’s all gonna keep going. December up until the summer we’re gonna work and we’re gonna have success so next year we can bring the community to this point and hopefully go farther,” Stutes said.
It may not have been the Hawks’ day today but it’s been one heck of a ride and it appears that this season may not be the end to that ride for Central Lee baseball.