TAMA - It's shaping up to be a competitive summer in the North Iowa Cedar League West.
West Marshall got to enjoy being atop the conference for all of 24 hours before falling in a closely-contested 5-3 loss to fellow frontrunner South Tama on Tuesday night.
STC moves into a tie for first with a 5-1 league baseball mark with East Marshall, which was handed its first league loss the night prior by West Marshall.
South Tama’s Kaleb Davenport, left, high-fives Kolton Smith after they both scored runs on the same wild play in the fourth inning Tuesday. South Tama beat West Marshall 5-3 to remain tied atop the NICL West standings.
"That was a good team we beat," STC junior Kaleb Davenport said. "We came out and played well. We just did what we had to do tonight."
The Trojans of West Marshall slide to 5-2 after one wild sequence in the fourth inning broke a tie and gave STC starter Sam Kuhter the room he needed to operate.
South Tama had runners on second and third base with two outs on the board and number-two hitter Jacob Clark at the plate. With the score tied 3-3, Clark took a pitch like any other, but the throw back to the mound to Braydn Beals was offline, allowing Kaleb Davenport to make a break for home.
The throw to the plate in an attempt to cut down Davenport was offline, and then the throw to third to try to retire an advancing Kolton Smith sailed into left field to allow another run to score.
"I knew I had to be aggressive," Davenport said. "Coach was telling me to go. We've been working on being aggressive on the bases."
Three errors. Two runs. One play.
"I think the kids know they need to stay alert, see what happens on those basepaths," said STC head coach Seth Koch. "We've really stressed about taking extra bases. That is something we've worked on in practice with some new stuff and kids have gotten more confident that they can get that extra base.
"To score the two winning runs on a ball back to the pitcher that's overthrown," he said. "You don't see that. That doesn't happen very often. Kaleb and Kolton are two of our best baserunners and two of our fastest kids on the team. They took advantage of it and made them make mistakes."
Kuhter allowed just two hits and struck out four over the final three innings to hold the lead in his complete-game victory.
"I thought those two runs were key," Koch said. "Sam got confident after that and it ran through the whole dugout. Everybody responded positively."
It was a tough loss for West Marshall to swallow.
"It's a game of more than one play, but that play definitely hurt," said West Marshall head coach Jarod Brown. "It probably makes (the loss) a little more difficult, just knowing it's something you can control.
"Sometimes you kick a ball or throw a ball away, those are going to happen from time to time, but not paying attention, not having your mind in the game, not being focused is something that's always under your control. We opened the door and made a mistake and they took advantage of it."
Kuhter's final line included two earned runs over seven innings and 10 strikeouts against two walks.
"Sam just got into a zone and threw the ball by people and I thought he was pretty dominant there for the last five innings," said Koch. "It's kind of nice we've got enough arms this year where we're only asking guys to throw once a week. That was something that Sam really liked. Last year we were throwing some guys on three days rest. We were asking too much of kids. This year, we get guys throwing once a week, they kind of like that."
West Marshall had a pair of early leads that it couldn't get to stand up. A double steal saw Jared Riemenschneider cross home in the first, but a passed ball in the bottom of the frame knotted the score at one when Smith scored.
Singles by Matt Van Metre and Justin Weitzell along with an STC error pushed across two runs to put West Marshall up again in the second inning, but it was a lead shortlived.
A walk to the No. 9 hitter Davenport brought Smith, who entered the game hitting .462/.667/.846, to the plate and the sophomore delivered a bases-clearing triple.
"He's really starting to see the ball and hit the ball well," noted Koch.
Smith finished the day 1-for-2 with an intentional walk and hit-by-pitch.
"He's just a good hitter. He doesn't have many weaknesses," said Brown. "Came into the game wanting to avoid him as much as we could knowing that. Gave him a pitch to hit, we kind of put ourselves in that spot with a walk to the nine hitter with two outs. He took advantage and that's what good hitters do."
The conference race remains wide open with East Marshall and STC at the top and two meetings between the pair still on the schedule.
"I made the mistake years ago of trying to project and look at games, and say, 'We've got to do this that week and that against this team,'" Koch said, "and we've kind of just stressed to the kids, we're going to take it one game at a time."
West Marshall still has one more meeting with both the Mustangs and South Tama left on the schedule while three-loss Gladbrook-Reinbeck appears to be picking up steam near the midway point of the season.
South Tama traveled to Conrad on Monday and left with a 12-1 victory. Grant Koch pitched for the Trojans, while most of the team had a strong night at the plate. Smith hit a solo home run to lead off the game.
"Grant threw six solid innings," Koch said. "He only threw 82 pitches and only gave up one earned. He walked one and struck out five or six. We only had one error. We also hit the ball."
STC travels to rival Grinnell on Thursday night before heading to Grundy Center on Friday.
* Jimmy Gillispie, News-Herald sports editor, also contributed to this story.