A strong first inning went a long way for the South Tama baseball team last week when it traveled to Newton.
The Trojans tallied four runs in the top half of the first inning. It would be enough to propel the Trojans (15-12) to an 11-1 run-rule victory over Newton, who beat the Trojans 5-2 eight days prior to last Thursday's contest.
"I told the kids, 'you only get better by playing better competition,'" head coach Seth Koch said. "This is a team that might be better than us, but it's also a team we can beat. We knew that after last week, when we lost to them 5-2.
"Fortunately, they gave us four runs in the first inning," he said. "Their starter kind of struggled with his control. We took advantage of it and got some good base hits. We scored four, then a couple more, we kept swinging the bat and we executed some bunts."
Thursday's victory ensured a winning season for the Trojans. They finished out their regular season Tuesday, before playing their district game at 7 p.m. Friday at Vinton-Shellsburg in Vinton.
"We told the kids they are guaranteed to have a winning season," Koch said. "We are at 15-12 now. This is our first winning season since 2003."
On Thursday, South Tama's first two batters were walked to start the game. Chase Schuett hit a sacrifice bunt, but reached first on an error, moving Jacob Clark over a base. Grant Koch later reached on a fielder's choice and Tank Keckler, Sam Kuhter and Dalton Doyle hit singles.
Smith, Schuett, Koch and Keckler scored in the first inning for STC. Schuett, Keckler and Doyle each had an RBI during the inning.
"Unfortunately for them, they lost their starting short stop, who's a great player, and their center fielder when they collided in the first inning," coach Koch said. "They have a kid who's probably an all-conference, maybe an all-state, player at short stop. They both had to leave the game, so that put a hole in their line up early in the game."
South Tama continued adding more runs in the second inning. Smith led off the inning by being hit by a pitch. Two batters later, Schuett hit a single. Noah Bearden hit a two-run single to score Smith and Schuett, giving STC a 6-1 lead. Newton hit a triple and a sacrifice fly in the first inning to score its only run of the game.
The Trojans added three more runs in the fourth inning, taking total control of the game. Clark and Schuett starting the inning with singles. Bearden and Koch also reached base. Clark, Schuett and Bearden all scored in the inning.
"I talked to their coach and he wasn't throwing one of his top four pitchers," coach Koch said. "It was a case of whoever got to who's bullpen first and we got to their bullpen first tonight."
In the top of the fifth inning, South Tama added two important runs to give itself a 10-run lead, which would be enough for the run rule. Smith was hit by another pitch before stealing second base. Clark was also hit by a pitch. Koch hit a two-run single, giving STC an 11-1 lead.
"In the heat like this, whichever team gets down is probably going to roll over and kind of quit," coach Koch said. "Fortunately, things were going well for us, so we didn't quit. Things were going bad for them and they kind of put things on the back burner a bit."
Koch started the fifth inning on the mound. He started the first four innings, allowing only one run. The lead off batter in the fifth hit a single and coach Koch switched pitchers, putting Clark on the mound to finish the game. Clark fanned the final two batters to end the contest.
"We told Grant we were only going to let him throw two innings or 40 pitches," Koch said. "All of a sudden, we were up 6-0 and then 9-1, so we were going to ride him as long as we could. Once we got the 10-run rule, we told Grant he could finish it, but if a runner gets on to break the 10-run rule, we are coming to bring Jake in the game. Jake's been feeling stronger and stronger in the last two weeks. He looked really sharp tonight and threw the ball well tonight."
South Tama plays the second game Friday at Vinton. Benton and Union play at 5 p.m., with the Trojans playing the next game. It's scheduled to start at 7 p.m.