BY JOHN BOHNENKAMP
FORT MADISON – Fort Madison’s hitters couldn’t rattle the freshman pitcher who had the confidence to go with his stuff.
The Bloodhounds couldn’t find a way to get to Central DeWitt starting pitcher Nic Reemtsma, and it cost them at the worst time.
The Sabers’ 5-1 win over the Bloodhounds in Monday’s Class 3A substate semifinal started with a lot of noise early from the bats of the visiting team.
And that was the spark Reemtsma needed.
“When I pitch with a lead, I’m pretty dominant,” Reemtsma said.
It was an accurate description.
Reemtsma allowed just five hits over 5 2/3 shutout innings, striking out four. And he helped Central DeWitt (22-15), the third seed in the substate, advance to Wednesday’s 7 p.m. final against top-seed Davenport Assumption.
Fort Madison, which finished 25-9, couldn’t find a way to break through. And even when the Bloodhounds loaded the bases in the sixth inning, eventually knocking Reemtsma from the game, they couldn’t capitalize.
“We weren’t going to be able to show up, go through the motions, and win,” Fort Madison coach Ron Walker said. “But hey, we competed. Someone’s got to win, someone’s got to lose, and unfortunately we were on the wrong side tonight.”
What Reemtsma did didn’t surprise Central DeWitt coach Shane Sikkema.
“That’s Nic Reemtsma,” Sikkema said. “He’s got the velo, he’s got the curve, he’s got the change-up. He’s a three-pitch pitcher, and tonight was an example of how good his future looks.”
“My whole life, I’ve pitched with a lot of confidence,” Reemtsma said.
Reemtsma (3-2) struck out four — three in the second inning — and kept the Bloodhounds off-balance until they got three consecutive singles in the sixth.
“My fastball/change-up combo was pretty good,” Reemtsma said. “I was really pounding the zone, trying to get first-pitch strikes.”
It was all about trust in his defense, Reemtsma said.
“Those guys give me all of the confidence in the world,” he said. “They’re great teammates.”
Reemtsma’s best inning was in the fourth, when he needed just five pitches to retire the side.
“Like I said, I trust those guys,” Reemtsma said. “They’re great defensively.”
“Their pitcher threw the ball really well,” Walker said. “He mixed up his pitches well.”
The Sabers had a noisy first inning. Boomer Jackson, the second hitter, drove a home run to deep center field for a 1-0 lead.
Every ball the Sabers hit was with solid contact.
“We just needed to not hit everything at them,” Sikkema said, laughing.
Central DeWitt added a run in the second when Jacob Maher scored on a wild pitch, then Maher’s home run nearly in the same spot as Jackson’s gave the Sabers a 3-0 lead in the fourth.
“We jumped on some fastballs, hit them hard,” Sikkema said. “Obviously took advantage of some small portions (of the ballpark) here, and that gave us a lot of confidence. And it gave Nic a lot of confidence.
Kaiden Muhl scored on a wild pitch in the fifth, and then Muhl scored on Kyle Bixby’s single in the seventh for the Sabers’ final run.
Fort Madison had three consecutive singles off Reemtsma in the sixth, and after getting Kane Williams on an infield pop-up for the second out, Reemtsma’s night was done. Reliever Noah Thein got Reiburn Turnbull on a fly out to left field to end the inning.
The Bloodhounds got their only run in the seventh when Jason Thurman’s single scored Colton Engeman.
“We had chances, and that’s what I told our guys,” Walker said. “We’re down 5-0, we’re playing on our home field, our guys competed. We just tried to keep it close, keep competing.”
It was a season in which the Bloodhounds contended for the Southeast Conference regular-season title until the final week. The final loss was filled with emotion, yet Walker knew of his team’s promise for the future.
“It’s a bright future for the Bloodhounds,” Walker said. “We had a lot of younger kids. We had great seniors, great leaders, and you could see that there at the end, with a lot of emotions, a lot of heart. It’s tough to see, but that’s part of sports. It’s good to see these kids respect the game the way that they do.”