VINTON South Tama's baseball team needed only three innings of its opening game to shake off the rust and pick up an early season road victory.
In fact, that's all the Trojans were able to play Monday night. However, they moved on from the opening night loss and avenged last year's postseason defeat at Vinton-Shellsburg the following night.
On May 20, the Trojans opened their season at North Tama, who entered the season ranked after a trip to the postseason a year ago. With limited practice time during the past weeks and graduation on Sunday, the Trojans struggled during their opener. North Tama scored six runs in the first inning and two more in the third, which were helped by four Trojan errors. The game was called after the third inning as lightning was approaching the area.
"Last night was a good learning experience," coach Seth Koch said Tuesday. "Last night was a good wake-up call for everybody that said we can't go out and have this type of attitude and effort. We have to go out and we have to play."
South Tama rebounded the next night with a much-better effort and performance against Vinton-Shellsburg, who eliminated STC from the postseason in 2012. After taking a 9-4 lead in the fifth inning, the Trojans hung on to beat the Vikings 9-8 and improve to 1-1 on the early season.
"It was bad last night," senior Tank Keckler said. "There were a lot of errors made. I'm glad we bounced back tonight as a team. We came out and hit the ball better than we did last night by making a lot of contact."
The Trojans coach was happy with his entire team the next day.
"It's like I told the kids, I can go up and down the lineup tonight and everybody contributed something tonight," Koch said. "We probably had 15 kids that contributed before, including some kids that haven't even played before. It starts with the track guys, who aren't in baseball shape and the effort they gave us tonight. I'm just happy the kids hung on and won. It was a nice ball game."
South Tama junior Kolton Smith and senior Kaleb Davenport reached base in the first inning after being hit by a pitch and walked. However, both were picked off by the Vikings' left-handed pitcher. The Trojans quickly learned the pitcher's pick-off move and weren't picked off the rest of the night.
Freshman Colson Frakes helped the Trojans out of a jam in the bottom of the first inning. With bases loaded, the Vikings hit a ball deep to left field, but Frakes grabbed the ball and saved the inning.
South Tama responded and got on the scoreboard in the second inning. Junior Nate Hala and sophomore Dalton Doyle reached base before sophomore Ian Slagle drilled a ball down the left field line. The Vikings left fielder nearly made the running catch, but the ball bounced off of his glove, allowing Hala and Doyle to score giving STC a 2-0 lead.
Vinton tied the game in the bottom of the third inning after it scored once in the second. The Vikings' leadoff batter hit a home run over the center field fence. After two more singles, STC's Doyle struck out his second batter of the inning, ending the inning with a 2-2 tie.
"Dalton Doyle came in and gave us four strong innings," Koch said. "He kind of grew up tonight and made some big pitches in tough situations. I thought it was a real growing up moment when he came in, gave up a home run to No. 3 hitter and then strikes out the clean-up hitter on four pitches. That showed a lot of courage and poise on his part."
South Tama turned up its offensive firepower once the game was tied. In the top of the fourth inning, Doyle hit an RBI single before Hala moved him to second with a sacrifice bunt. Senior Clay Waterbury's single moved Doyle to third base and junior Ian Slagle's RBI single scored Doyle, giving STC a 3-2 advantage. Frakes followed Slagle with an RBI single that scored Waterbury. Junior Kolton Smith was hit by a pitch for the second time in the game during the next at-bat for the Trojans.
During Smith's plate appearance, the Vikings pitcher was called for a balk, scoring junior Kyle Maas, who pinch ran for Slagle. Davenport loaded the bases with a blooper into the outfield. Then Keckler hit a 2-run single that scored Frakes and Smith and gave STC a 7-2 lead.
"Ian got some big hits," Koch said. "He's been swinging the bat pretty well. Tank Keckler got a big two-out hit. That single with bases loaded was huge to drive in two runs. That was the difference."
Vinton got two of those runs back during the bottom of the inning. Two Vikings singles gave way for a 2-run double. Doyle struck out three batters during the half of the inning to keep the STC lead at three runs.
The Trojans responded with two runs of their own in the fifth inning. With one out on the books, Slagle was walked and Frakes hit a double to get runners on base. Smith hit Slagle home with an RBI single. Davenport followed Smith with an RBI that scored Frakes and gave STC a commanding 9-4 lead.
"We put the ball in play and put the pressure on them defensively," Koch said. "It looked like we had played last night, even though it was only three innings, and (Vinton-Shellsburg) hadn't played. It was a typical opener for them. They had a few defensive miscues that a Vinton team doesn't normally make. Fortunately, a few of those miscues went out way and we were fortunate to get out of here with a win."
Davenport's heroics came on the defensive end, too. In the bottom of the fifth inning with a runner on first, Davenport made a double play that drew a thunderous cheer from the dugout. He sprinted to catch a short fly ball, caught the ball and then threw out the runner, who was caught between first and second bases, at first.
"A lot of that goes to our senior leadership," Koch said of the Trojans defensive effort. "Kaleb Davenport just roamed out in centerfield tonight. He came up and doubled a guy up on a ball that was hit short in the outfield. I thought that was a big, defining moment for us defensively."
While South Tama's offense struggled during the last two innings, Vinton wasn't done scoring runs with a five-run deficit. The Vikings scored four in the sixth inning off of one walk, two doubles and three singles. They left runners at second and third base with a groundout that went right at Smith, who was pitching during the inning.
Keckler came in as relief during the seventh inning, despite pitching for two innings on Monday night. The first Vikings batter hit a deep fly ball that was caught by Maas in right field. The second hit a hard ground ball back at Keckler, who stopped the ball, composed himself and threw to first for the out. The third batter flew out to center field, where Davenport made another out and helped STC to a 9-8 win.
"I want to thank Koch for putting me in the last inning to close it," Keckler said. "He put a lot of trust in me. I felt tons of pressure, but you have to overwhelm the pressure and bang it out.
"The one that was hit at me scared me a bit," he added. "You just have to keep your composure and make the play."
Koch was proud of his entire team Tuesday night.
"The four guys that came out and threw tonight did a heck of a job," Koch said. "We got in some jams, but they played their way out of it. Plus our lineup card looked a whole lot different tonight than it did last night. With Sam and Grant being sick, we had two starters out of the lineup, so we had to juggle around a bit who was going to throw.
"Everybody did something little tonight," he said. "Each and every kid in the lineup helped us out, so it truly was a total team effort to get this win."