Le Mars Community's two games at the Heelan Classic Sunday in Elk Point, S.D., started very differently as the Bulldogs gave up a big lead to Sioux City West and took a big lead on Sioux City Heelan. Both games ultimately had the same result, however, as Le Mars suffered losses in both to finish the day 0-2.
Bulldog coach Nick Carpenter sent eighth-grader Evan Knowlton to the mound for his first-ever varsity start in Le Mars' opener against Sioux City West. West jumped on the youngster out of the gates, plating three runs in the first and four in the second for a 7-0 lead on the way to a 9-1 win.
Knowlton battled through those first few innings to turn in a decent start, working all six and allowing five earned runs on eight hits with two strikeouts.
"They got after him a little bit early and he settled down and pitched alright," said Carpenter. "He doesn't throw real hard yet, but he's around the plate (0 walks) and he was pretty effective."
Le Mars showed little support in the way of offense for Knowlton with just one run on six hits. The run came in the third inning as Matt Plathe doubled to drive in Tyler Koopman after Koopman reached with a single.
Andrew Moritz added two of the Bulldogs' six hits with a double and a single. Le Mars had opportunities to put more runs on the board, leaving 10 runners on base throughout the game. Carpenter said that a timely hit or two mixed in with a better defensive effort might have turned the game in the Bulldogs' favor.
"We had some errors in the outfield that cost us some runs and we left 10 guys in scoring position," said Carpenter. "It's a game where it was 9-1 and a hit here or there and we're right there. Or we catch a couple balls we should catch in the outfield and it's a different ballgame."
Scoring was not an issue for Le Mars early on against Class 3A no. 1-ranked Heelan as the Bulldogs led 4-0 after the first inning and 5-0 after two. The well went dry offensively after the fast start, however, as Le Mars was held scoreless over the next three innings to suffer a 16-5 five-inning loss.
Koopman started Le Mars off in the first inning with a triple and Plathe drove him in with an RBI single. Justin Phelan walked to put two on and Plathe came home on a double from Moritz. Phelan and Moritz finished off the first by scoring after a Crusader fielding error on a ball hit by Preston Fischer. The Bulldogs added another run in the second on a solo home run from Chris Campbell.
Heelan's bats came alive in the third inning as the Crusaders scored seven runs to take the lead, then finished off the Bulldogs with nine runs in the fourth.
Starter Phelan tossed the first 3 1/3 innings for the Bulldogs, allowing 11 runs on seven hits and five walks while striking out one. Adam Hasselquist came on to give up the final five runs on six hits, striking out one in 2/3 of an inning.
"We were up 5-0 and then they started to hit the ball," said Carpenter. "Justin walked a few guys and kind of opened the door for them. They're a good hitting team though."
Le Mars had five hits in the game, with Plathe, Koopman, Moritz and Phelan all logging singles to go with Campbell's home run.
The Bulldogs will face Heelan in the first round of Class 3A district playoffs Friday at Lewis and Clark Park in the Sioux City. Despite the outcome of Sunday's game, Carpenter said that he expects Le Mars to compete well against the Crusaders come playoff time.
"We're going to have to play awfully well to beat them, but I'm optimistic with Chris Campbell on the mound," said Carpenter. "We'll give it our best shot. If we play defense like we've been playing, we'll compete with them."
Le Mars (9-16) will finish out the regular season schedule by facing West again Monday at home, then Sioux City East Wednesday, also at home. Carpenter said the goal over the final week is to prepare for the game with Heelan and build some confidence.
"We've been competiting better and playing defense better. Hopefully that will continue through these last two games before we play Heelan. Win or lose, we're looking to gain confidence. If we go out and play well-that's what I'm looking for."