Gehlen baseball wins rubber match over Akron-Westfield to move on

Friday, July 8, 2022
(Sentinel Photo By Allen Hamil) David Begnoche swings the bat for Gehlen in Wednesday’s win over Akron-Westfield. He finished 4-for-5 with 3 RBI.

AKRON — After splitting their first two meetings of the season, the Gehlen Catholic baseball team won the rubber match of the season series over Akron-Westfield on Wednesday to keep their season alive. The Jays picked up a 12-5 win in the Class 1A district semifinal round contest.

The two teams had their chances in the first three innings, but neither team was able to find the scoreboard. Arik Allard kept the Jays from scoring despite allowing runners on in the first two innings. Connor Kraft likewise worked out of a couple jams, putting two runners on in the second inning with a walk and hit batter and also stranding another runner at third in the next frame.

Gehlen was finally able to get on the scoreboard in the fourth inning as they loaded the bases and Zayne Weiland came through with a base hit to right field which drove in a pair and led to the end of Allard’s time on the mound.

An error followed by a pinch-hit RBI fielder’s choice off the bat of Carter Kellen extended the Gehlen lead to 3-0. The team loaded the bases once more in the inning, but Tatum Wilken was able to get out of the inning with no more damage done.

The Westerners had one of their best opportunities against Kraft in the fourth inning as a walk and two singles loaded the bases, but Kraft was able to get the next two batters to strike out swinging, part of his seven strikeouts in four innings.

A home run over the fence in left field by Gabe Wiltgen gave the Jays a 4-0 lead in the fifth inning and the team took a calculated risk by pulling Kraft after four shutout innings with 58 pitches in order to allow him to be able to come back to pitch in the district final round on Saturday.

“Connor looked good again. He looked sharp. He had the one walk and the one hit batsman which put him in trouble the one inning, but he pretty much controlled the lineup,” Gehlen Head Coach Kirk Kronaizl said. “It was pretty gutsy on our part to go after Remsen before we beat Akron, but in our minds, that’s what we had to do.”

The Westerners were able to get their bats going against Kraft’s replacement on the hill, David Begnoche, scoring five runs in the inning to take the lead. The Westerners loaded the bases and Jack Terpstra broke the goose egg on the scoreboard with a 2 RBI single to right field. Kasey Nielsen added an RBI double and two batters later, Carter Wilken put the Westerners in front with a 2 RBI single.

(Sentinel Photo By Allen Hamil) Akron-Westfield’s Jack Terpstra throws the ball across the diamond. Terpstra had a single, walked three times and drove in a pair of runs in the loss to Gehlen.

“When he came out, we started hitting the ball and pulled ahead,” A-W Head Coach Gordy Johnson said. “We just couldn’t hold it.”

Gehlen responded in the top of the sixth as Ryan Livermore hit a sacrifice fly to center field to tie the game. Michael Swancutt got the out on the sacrifice fly as he come in for Tatum Wilken, but he walked the next two batters as his relief appearance lasted just 1/3 of an inning. The Westerners then brought in Raiden Ericson who gave up a 2 RBI single to Begnoche and an RBI base hit to Ryan Augustine before getting out of the inning with the score now 8-5 in favor of the Jays.

“It was good to see them come back,” Kronaizl said. “What’s nice is it’s not the same guy over and over. It’s just about everybody. That’s what’s cool to see about this team.”

Gehlen made a pitching change of their own as Weiland came on in the sixth. He ended up holding the Westerners scoreless the rest of the way in his two innings. He gave up one walk in both innings, but faced just four batters in each frame while closing out the contest.

“The one inning, we actually got hit hard. It was good to see how we reacted to it. Dave kind of got his eyes opened,” Kronaizl said. “The good thing is, Zayne came in and just started pounding the zone and we got back to what we did.”

Gehlen added some insurance to their lead in the top of the seventh. A misplayed pop up allowed the first run of the inning to score. Keaton Logan added an RBI on a single to right, Gabe Wiltgen drove in a run with a sacrifice fly to right, and Begnoche capped off a 4-for-5 game at the plate with his team-leading third RBI of the game with a single to center field.

The final two runs scored against Conner Wendel, the fifth pitcher who took the mound for the Westerners in the contest.

Akron-Westfield finishes the season with a 15-12 record as they say goodbye to a pair of seniors, Tyson Fairbanks and Matthew Nielsen.

“Tyson has been a four-year starter and got to play a little bit as an eighth grader. He’s just a really great kid. He’s going to go play some baseball at Marshalltown. Gonna miss him,” Johnson said. “I’m going to really miss having Matthew around. He’s played, he was our manager this year. I need him to sign a 10-year contract. I’m gonna miss him. He keeps me where I need to be and keeps all my stuff straight and he’s just a great kid.”

With a roster featuring mostly freshmen and sophomores this season, Johnson is excited for what the future holds for this group of players.

“There’s no limit to these guys. We can go a long ways, but there’s a lot of work to do,” Johnson said. “They’re battlers. We started six sophomores this year and actually we’ve had seven start and then Ashton (McCully) got hurt. All those guys started games as eighth graders, a lot of them have started every game since they’ve been in eighth grade. They’re growing and it’s not just physically, it’s getting better as a teammate and the mental part of the game and that’s probably more exciting to me than anything. These kids are growing up and they’re just a great group of kids. I have a hard time. This is probably the worst day of the year for me and we’ll miss them for a couple months.”

Gehlen (21-9) advances to face another conference rival, 1A top-ranked Remsen St. Mary’s (31-0) in Saturday’s district final. RSM won a 6-0 game over the Jays in last year’s district final and won both meetings this season, a 10-2 game in late May in Remsen and an 8-7 extra inning contest in late June in Le Mars.

Kronaizl said his team is going to take their best shot at knocking off the Hawks for the first time since 2017.

“They’re going to be great with two strikes and they’re going to take advantage of your mistakes,” Kronaizl said of RSM. “It’s just can somebody change the outcome, that’s what we’re looking for. I think this team’s got a little of that in them so we’ll see what happens.”

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