STC underdogs in playoff run

South Tama County varsity players stride off the field after a second round playoff win over Charles City on Monday, July 20. Darvin Graham/News Chronicle

Following the conclusion of arguably the strangest Iowa high school baseball regular season, the South Tama County Trojans (7-16) entered the playoffs with something to prove. They played the underdog role as a seventh seeded team and emerged victorious through the first two rounds with wins over Waverly-Shell Rock and Charles City.

South Tama Head Coach Seth Koch was encouraged by what he saw saying, “We’re very proud of this group of kids on how they have improved. It’s been fun to see their confidence grow with each game during the post-season.”

The Trojans’ playoff run began in Waverly against 13-7 Waverly-Shell Rock. The Go-Hawks were the number two seed in the playoff bracket behind Cedar Rapids Xavier.

South Tama bested Waverly-Shell Rock with a final score of 4-2. Junior Matt Wiese got the win for STC with four strikeouts, two walks, and only one earned run. Payton Leonard took the loss for the Go-Hawks.

The Trojans offense set the tone early and would give Wiese enough breathing room to navigate the defense effectively. STC’s Logan Arp took Leonard’s first pitch of the game into left field and immediately gave the Go-Hawks something to worry about. W-SR would escape the inning but in the third, the South Tama bats hit pay dirt.

Sophomore Jacob Collison led off the third inning with a line drive single to left field and would advance to second after a sacrifice bunt from Gavin Jimenez.

Wiese followed with a triple that scored Collison. The next pitch from Leonard was air mailed into right field by junior Mickey Wanatee, scoring Eric Henry, who was courtesy running for Wiese. Wanatee was stranded after hitting the double but the Trojans were able to come away with a 2-0 lead that would stand until the bottom of the fourth inning.

The Go-Hawks quickly responded to tie the game back up in the bottom of the fifth inning.

The sixth inning began with Wanatee taking a two-strike pitch from Leonard into right field for a single.

After Lane Lekin walked, first baseman Brayden Smith tapped a sacrifice bunt to the pitcher that was able to advance Henry, now pinch running for Wanatee, and Lekin.

The deciding swing came from sophomore catcher Jordan Bly. Bly connected on a pitch and drove the ball squarely into left field, scoring both Henry and Lekin.

“It felt really good at the plate,” Bly said smiling after the game. “The ball was coming inside and the left fielder was practically in center field. It was a perfect pitch to hit right down the line and it felt great coming off the bat. I saw it drop and kept running.”

Wiese and the Trojans defense would clamp down in the sixth and seventh innings to secure the 4-2 win.

Speaking after the game, Wiese credited his teammates’ work in capturing the victory.

“It was nerve wracking at the beginning,” commented Wiese. “But once we got in a groove and started putting runs on the board, I felt a lot more confident and just kind of let it roll from there and let me my defense do the job.”

Three days later, the Trojans were headed back on the road to face another team from the Northeast Iowa Conference. In the substate semifinal round on Monday, July 20 the Trojans faced off against Charles City (9-9), who were coming off an upset win over third seeded Decorah on Friday.

The Trojans would need to endure not only a comeback, but also extra innings to find a pathway to victory.

Mickey Wanatee pitched a gem for the Trojans, striking out a season high 13 batters with zero walks across seven innings of work. Jacob Collison threw the final inning, striking out two Charles City batters with no hits and no walks. Tait Arndt took the loss for the Comets.

The Trojans struck first on Wednesday with three runs scored in the fourth inning. Matt Wiese began with a single followed by Wanatee who doubled to right field. Lane Lekin drove in the first run with a sacrifice grounder. Brayden Smith followed with a double that scored the second run. Jordan Bly scored the third run after hitting a grounder that allowed Smith to reach home plate.

W-SR came right back however and answered with three runs of their own in the bottom of the fourth inning to tie the game. Atticus Parrott would help take the lead for the Comets with a two-out fly ball in the fifth inning that scored one run.

The tipping point for the Trojans arrived in the top of the sixth inning when Wanatee took his first pitch from Arndt deep over the left-center wall for a one-run homer to pull back even with the Comets, 4-4.

Wanatee went back to work in the next two innings keeping the Charles City offense in check by allowing no hits while striking out three.

By the eighth inning the Comets were forced to make a pitching change, and once they did, the wheels came off and the South Tama bats came alive.

The Trojans beat up relief pitcher Atticus Parrott, batting through the lineup and scoring six runs in the eighth inning. Logan Arp, Brayden Smith, Bly, and Kyler Smith each hit singles. STC was able to get three bunts down in the inning, the last of which was a squeeze bunt from Gavin Jimenez with bases loaded that scored a runner from third.

After the game Brayden Smith spoke about his eighth inning plate appearance that got the scoring started for STC saying, “I was really nervous when I got down 0-2 right away. But I knew I just needed to put it in play. Thankfully it happened to fall in and we just kept scoring from there.”

The six-run onslaught in the eighth was too much for the Comets to handle and the Trojans marched on to another upset victory with a final score of 10-4.

Looking back after the game Coach Koch handed it to his junior starter saying, “Can’t say enough about Mickey Wanatee’s performance on the mound and at the plate. He was dominant on the mound for seven innings and the home run was huge after Charles City had taken the lead.”

“We’re some dogs,” Wanatee declared after the win. “We’re a really good seventh seed and I don’t think many people expected much from us. We played together really well tonight. We battled back and didn’t let anything get to us. Tonight was big.”

South Tama was scheduled to face Benton Community in the state qualifying Substate Final game on Wednesday, July 22. STC has sent a baseball team to the state tournament only once before in school history, in the year 2000. Full coverage of Wednesday’s game will be in next week’s News Chronicle.