South Tama County's baseball squad is headed in the wrong direction as it tunes up for Friday's postseason opener.
After a narrow 2-1 victory over Newton (17-16) last week, the Trojans (20-11) dropped two non-conference games this week to close out the regular season. An awful first inning Monday led to an 13-1 loss at Center Point-Urbana (15-23). Then two costly errors and a lack of offense doomed the Trojans in their home finale Tuesday against Ballard (16-15), as they lost 4-1.
"Unfortunately, we've only scored four runs in our last three games," STC head coach Seth Koch said. "That's the reason why we're 1-2. Most of the time, if you say you've only scored four runs in your last three games, you should probably be 0-3. We happen to be 1-2, because we got a great pitching performance from Sam the other night."
South Tama County junior Kolton Smith turns a double play Tuesday. Smith, STC's short stop, stepped on second base before throwing to first base to turn the double play.
The Trojans have accumulated 14 hits during the past three games, but struggled to push runs across the plate. Koch said his players don't have any mechanical issues with their swing, but instead the issue is between the ears.
"We're struggling a bit to swing it," Koch said. "Right now, it's kind of a mind over matter thing. You're going to see tougher pitching at the end of the season and you're going to see tougher pitching than what we saw in the conference this year. We've talked about that with the kids and we haven't reacted very well.
"We've had chances with runners in scoring position and we've left guys on base," he said. "You can't do that in the tournament. You have to have someone come up with that big two-out hit or get that clutch hit with runners on to get those guys across. We just haven't done that in the last couple of nights."
On Tuesday, Ballard struck first as South Tama struggled to score until late in the game. Ballard's lead-off batter started the game with a single before stealing second base. The Bombers' No. 2 hitter came through with an RBI single groundball through the middle of the field. After a fly ball out to center field, STC sophomore pitcher Dalton Doyle converted a ground ball to the mound into a double play to end the inning.
South Tama's lead-off batter, senior Kaleb Davenport, started the game with a double to give the Trojans a runner in scoring position. Junior Kolton Smith was walked two batters later and then both runners advanced to second and third on a passed ball. However, two strikeouts and a ground ball ended the inning, stranding two Trojans.
Doyle shut down the Bombers during the next three innings. The Bombers had only two batters reach base during that stretch. One of those was a walk and the other was a single. Doyle allowed only six hits for the entire game, while giving up just one earned run and striking out three batters.
"Dalton pitched well enough to win," Koch said. "When you hold a team to four runs in high school baseball, I'm a firm believer you should be able to win that game."
Ballard added a second run in the fifth inning. An STC error at second base allowed the batter to turn the possible out into a double. The runner scored two batters later on a fielder's choice, giving Ballard a 2-0 lead.
South Tama's offense responded in the bottom half of the inning. Freshman Colson Frakes hit a double down the left-field line, but was nearly stranded on base after two outs. Then senior Sam Kuhter ripped an RBI single, scoring Frakes and cutting the deficit in half.
The Trojans had two runners on base with two outs in the sixth inning, but couldn't score. Junior Nate Hala tried to steal second and was nearly tagged out, before the Bombers threw home and tagged out sophomore Grant Koch, who was running home from third base. The play didn't work in favor of the Trojans, who ended the inning still trailing 2-1.
Ballard added a pair of runs in the seventh inning. After a double, the Bombers scored one on a STC error from the pitcher. They added the second run two batters later on an RBI single.
"From a defensive and pitching standpoint, we're as solid as we've been all season," Koch said. "We had two crucial errors tonight and those two errors led to two runs."
The Trojans don't play again until Friday's district opener. They enjoyed some practice time during the past two nights.
"It's nice to not play for a couple nights and get some rest," Koch said. "We can get some guys healed up and then we'll bounce back to get ready for Friday.
"Tomorrow night, will be an offensive night," he said. "We'll swing the bats and let them rest the arms. Thursday night will be more of a defensive night. We'll work our situations."
Koch is hoping his team regains its confidence at the plate before Friday. STC plays Clear Creek-Amana at 5 p.m. Friday in Williamsburg. Center Point-Urbana plays Williamsburg in the second game of the night Friday.
"Friday, we'll go play some ball," Koch said. "We'll see how much further we want to go. We told the kids, it's more of a mind over matter thing right now. We're not going to magically fix your swing in two days. I told them, 'You guys are good enough hitters. It's just a matter of getting your confidence back. You're going to see good pitching, because everybody is going to throw their No. 1 and No. 2 pitchers the rest of the way out. You've got to elevate your mental approach at the plate and get after it.' We'll see if we can't boost our confidence and go from there."