Central slugs way to baseball split with Wartburg

Central College

Central College

PELLA — Just a hit away from a dramatic nine-run comeback, the Central College baseball team still managed a split of an Iowa Conference doubleheader with Wartburg Saturday and enters next week’s league tournament as the No. 3 seed.

Wartburg hung on for a 9-8 win in Saturday’s opener but Central outslugged the Knights 13-9 in the nightcap to split the teams’ four-game series.

Central (25-14 overall, 17-11 conference) needed a Saturday sweep to force a second-place tie in the league standings and snare the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament, which carries with it a coveted first-round bye. The six-team double-elimination tourney will be staged Thursday through Saturday at Veterans Stadium in Cedar Rapids.

The opener appeared to be over early as Wartburg erupted for nine runs in the first two innings, chasing starter Robbie Rushing (senior, West Des Moines, Valley HS) in the second inning. But reliever Blake Judkins (freshman, Marshalltown), after yielding three of Wartburg’s seven second-inning runs, blanked the Knights on three hits the rest of the way.

“Blake’s going to be really good,” coach Adam Stevens said. “He held a really good offensive team to three hits (after the second inning). We’re going to need him as the season goes on and we hope he can build from that.”

Meanwhile the Dutch steadily crept closer, scoring in five of the last six innings. Down 9-6 in the sixth inning, Central put the first two runners on base, but had a runner caught stealing at third base and another tagged out attempting to advance on a ball that got away from the catcher. In the seventh, right fielder Andrew O’Toole (senior, Des Moines, Lincoln HS) lined a one-out double and later scored on a sacrifice fly. The Dutch followed with three straight hits but saw the potential game-tying runner tagged out attempting to go from first to third base on a single.

It was an impressive comeback bid.

“Our team has as much fight and heart as any team I’ve ever coached here at Central, and that’s been true the entire season,” Stevens said. “I certainly wasn’t surprised by us getting back in that game. That’s just the way these guys are. We have great leadership and we didn’t give up.”

Left fielder Zach Zylstra (junior, Pella, Christian HS) had four hits, including a double, and drove in two runs. Second baseman Adam Ariola (senior, Bloomington, Ill., Normal HS), O’Toole and Rushing each had three hits while catcher Jace Ahrendsen (senior, Clarence, North Cedar HS) had two.

Central outhit Wartburg 18-9, but stranded 13 runners and lost five runners on the basepaths.

“The thing that was frustrating about that game was we played hard, we were not giving up but we made so many mental mistakes,” Stevens said. “And yet we still had a chance to win the game.”

Central took a 6-1 lead in the nightcap after a six-run second inning highlighted by a two-run homer from O’Toole, and RBI hits from Ahrendsen and Ariola, only to fall behind 7-6 in the fourth. But the Dutch tied it in the bottom of the inning, then regained command with four runs in the fifth and two more in the sixth. Center fielder Jake Effron (senior, Glendale, Ariz., North Pointe Prep HS) and shortstop Jordan Judkins (senior, Marshalltown) had run-scoring hits in the fifth while first baseman Grant Seuferer (senior, Milo, Southeast Warren HS) had an RBI double in the sixth.

“That was a tough loss (in the opener) and we came right back and we jump on top,” Stevens said. “It’s not easy to do that. I’m really happy for our guys and happy that our seniors won their last home game. They deserve it.”

Ryan Dusil (senior, Cedar Rapids, Kennedy HS) got the win in relief to improve to 2-2. He allowed two runs on four hits in 3.2 innings with two walks and two strikeouts.

“Ryan Dusil is as good of a teammate as anyone I’ve ever coached,” Stevens sad. “He’s been a starter and he’s been coming out of the bullpen the last three weeks and he did a great job.”

Seuferer had three of Central’s 11 hits in the game while Ariola had two.

“It was a really nice win against a good team,” Stevens said. “We definitely played better that game.”

The games marked the end of the home playing careers for 13 Central seniors.

“It’s the biggest class we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Stevens said. “There are guys in there who have played all four years and been big parts of really good teams, there are guys who have been role players and there are some guys who haven’t played at all. But they’re all just really good young men. They’re going to be successful. They’ve got great work ethics, great attitudes and they’re all team-first guys.”

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