Kaleb Davenport and Sam Kuhter each propelled the South Tama County baseball team to victories in memorable games they won't soon forget.
Both STC seniors were the catalysts to the pair of wins by the Trojans during their past two games. On Monday, Davenport drove in two runs on an extra innings walk-off double to lift the Trojans to an ugly victory. Three days earlier, Kuhter threw a 12-strikeout no-hitter on his first pitching start of the season.
"That might have been our problem defensively tonight," STC head coach Seth Koch said Monday. "We didn't have to field too many balls on Friday. Twelve of the 21 outs Sam had the other day were strikeouts. So there were only nine balls we had to catch or pick up and throw across."
Monday's contest was a roller-coaster ride for the Trojans. They were up early, then down for several innings, down in the extra inning and finally on top when it mattered most. With the game tied 7-7 after seven innings, BCLUW came up to bat in the top of the eighth inning.
The Comets' first batter hit a ground out to third baseman Dalton Doyle. The next Comets batter reached first on a single. He was moved to second on the next batter because of an error by the Trojans' infield. After advancing to third base during the next at-bat, the Comets' runner scored when STC sophomore pitcher Grant Koch fielded the Comets hit and threw it to first for the second out. The next batter also grounded out, ending the inning with the Comets leading 8-7.
"It was nice to get Grant back," coach Koch said. "With him being sick and gone for the last 10 days, he came in and pitched well. He gave up an unearned run and has a mental mistake at the end here, giving them the lead in the eighth. But he came into a tough situation, threw strikes and got us out of it."
In the bottom half of the inning, senior Clay Waterbury led off by drawing a walk. Freshman Blake Keller pinch hit next. Keller dropped a sacrifice bunt, moving Waterbury to second base. Junior Kolton Smith was automatically walked next as he became the winning run on first base.
Following Smith at the plate was Davenport. He drove a pitch into the right-center field gap, which allowed Waterbury and Smith to reach home plate. Smith slid into home for the winning score as Davenport rounded second for his 2-run walk-off double, lifting STC over the Comets 9-8.
"It felt really good," Davenport said. "That was my first walk-off ever. I was a little nervous, but it felt really good. I knew that he'd give me something, because he didn't think I could hit that good."
The Trojans' coach said his team did the small things in the final inning, making the win possible.
"I told the kids, 'You don't realize how big Blake Keller's sacrifice bunt is,'" Koch said. "I told Blake that if we need a bunt, he is going to come in and bunt. When Blake get the bunt down and moves Clay to second, (BCLUW) doesn't want to pitch to Kole and they're forced to put the winning run on first base. That's a tough thing to do. It's those little things that they don't realize had a big part in us winning this game tonight."
Otherwise, he wasn't too happy with the Trojans' 11 errors in the game that gave BCLUW many extra outs and runners on base all night.
"I'll give the kids credit for not rolling over and dying," Koch said. "We got some timely hits tonight. Kaleb gets the big game winner, the walk-off. You have to feel happy for him. From a defensive standpoint, I'm very upset with the way we played tonight. We let the the lead-off runner on in five out of six innings with an error. Not walk or a hit by pitch, but an error. I told the kids, 'If you want to win a conference championship, you can't do that.'"
South Tama started the game with Smith scoring the first run. As the leadoff hitter, Smith reached first on a single. Two batters later, junior Nate Hala hit an RBI that scored Smith.
BCLUW added three runs in the second inning and one more in the third, taking a a 4-1 lead. Davenport scored one run in the third inning to close the gap down to 4-2. However, the Comets added three more runs in the sixth inning and briefly took control of the game with a 7-2 lead.
"We were booting the ball around and we were down 7-2," Davenport said. "We started getting some hope back with some runs. Then Kole hits it into left field and gives us three runs. That really boosted us there."
In the bottom half of the sixth inning, senior Noah Bearden, Doyle, Koch and Kuhter all reached base on two walks and two singles. Koch's single scored Bearden and Kuhter's walk loaded the bases. The next two STC batters struck out. Then Smith ripped a shot deep into left field, scoring Koch, Doyle and Kuhter and cutting the lead to one run. Smith scored a few pitches later on a passed ball, tying the game at 7-7.
"You have to give credit to Kolton," Koch said. "He hits a triple to clear the bases to get us right back in it. Then he scores on the passed ball. Then it's a new ball game.
"I'm happy for the kids," Koch said. "I don't know if we deserved it as much as BCLUW deserved it. I think they outplayed us in a lot of phases of the game tonight. There isn't anything that happened tonight that can't be fixed. That's the good news. Now we move on to the next one."
South Tama used three pitchers in the game. Senior Tank Keckler started the game, but he was relieved by Waterbury. Koch finished the final innings for the Trojans.
"I thought our pitching staff did a nice job," Koch said. "We gave them 10 outs in the first two innings - five outs in the first and five outs in the second inning. That's just asking too much of the pitching staff. We did that throughout the game. Tank had pretty good stuff tonight, but we didn't pick the ball and throw it across to get outs. Clay came in we were down 4-2. I told him, 'You can't let it get any bigger. You have to keep it here.' We kicked it around a bit more, but Clay did a super job and he hasn't thrown for 10 days.
On Friday, the Trojans hosted Grundy Center for a conference game. They won 8-0 behind Kuhter's no-hitter. He struck out 12 batters in the contest.
"Sam throwing the no-hitter was special," Koch said. "Those don't happen very often. Sam threw 107 pitches and 73 of those were strikes, which is outstanding. It was a great effort on his part."
South Tama's offense was a bit slow early in the game. STC scored three runs in the third inning to break the scoreless tie. The Trojans added five more in the sixth inning to break it open.
"That game was closer than it should have been," Koch said. "We were only up 3-0 after the second. Then we put up a five-spot in the sixth that gave us a little more breathing room.
"We started off the conference with two wins against teams we think we should have beaten," he added.
South Tama's game at East Marshall on Tuesday was canceled because of rain. STC is scheduled to play at Gladbrook-Reinbeck on Friday before returning home Monday to host South Hardin.