Strong start clinches Dike-New Hartford baseball's first district title

The Dike-New Hartford baseball team poses for a photo after winning the school's first district title in a 9-1 victory over Denver on Friday at Dike-New Hartford High School. (Jake Ryder photo)
Jake Ryder

DIKE – Sean Leonard didn't let himself or the Dike-New Hartford baseball team get too comfortable on Saturday night.

As D-NH head coach, Leonard has seen year after year of talented Wolverine teams that won NICL East titles, earned state-wide recognition in rankings as one of the best teams in the state; yet a district title continued to elude the program.

In the late innings of Saturday's district final with Denver, Leonard told a D-NH assistant, within earshot of Denver head coach Dustin Rewerts, that the game "felt like a one-run game."

"You know it's eight, right?" Rewerts replied with a smile.

An eight-run first inning ended up being plenty for D-NH in a 9-1 victory against Denver on Saturday. The Wolverines (14-3) advance to their first substate final in school history, a meeting with Pocahontas Area (16-1) at West Fork on Tuesday, July 21.

"I feel better for Tuesday than I did for this," Leonard said after the game. "This just seemed to be the round we didn't just break through and it takes the pressure off a little bit."

Two walks and two errors loaded the bases for Zak Wauters in the first, who unloaded them with a double over the heads of Denver and into right field.

Nathan Moore brought in two more with a single, Parker Kiewiet plated a run on a Denver error, Drew Sonnenberg brought one more home and after a Reece Beuter pop fly to second, Gus Varney ran with Leonard matching him step for step, shouting encouragement as Varney beat the throw for an 8-0 lead.

It was cathartic, not only for Leonard who pumped his fist after Varney scored, but for the Wolverines as a whole, only a few days removed from a heart-stopping extra-inning victory against East Marshall in the postseason opener.

"We've been hitting all week in practice after that scare," Wauters said. "We really got the bats going in practice and we got it done in the first inning. We didn't really step on their throat after that, but we got the job done. We had a bunch of confidence and it showed."

Though D-NH scored just one run the rest of the game and left the bases loaded in the fifth and two on in the sixth, Beuter and Wauters once again delivered a solid 1-2 punch to keep both pitchers available for Tuesday's substate final.

Beuter struck out seven in four and one-third shutout innings, allowing one hit and one walk before getting the hook with 65 pitches.

"I had all the confidence in the world coming into the game," Beuter said, "that I knew nobody could touch me."

Wauters needed 62 pitches to get through the last eight outs, finding his rhythm in the back half of his relief outing and finishing with six strikeouts, three walks and one hit batsmen in addition to one earned run on two hits. Denver had the bases loaded in the sixth after scoring their first run of the game on a bases-loaded hit by pitch, but Wauters was able to coax a groundout to end Denver's biggest threat of the night.

"Coming in at the end of games has been my role this year, just not always with that much of a lead," Wauters said. "When I hit the strike zone, good things happened, and once I figured that out, we were fine."

Devon Kollasch reached base three times and scored twice. Drew Sonnenberg finished with two RBI and the Wolverines took advantage of eight walks from Denver pitching.

Tuesday's match-up will be between two teams ranked by the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association – D-NH third; Pocahontas Area 10th in Class 2A.

Both teams will have their entire pitching staff available, with likely starters Reece Beuter for D-NH and Christian Davidson for Pocahontas Area.

"We have to score runs on Tuesday," Leonard said. "To put up eight again would be awesome, but we can't bank on that. If we can score early we have our three pitchers available to us. I would expect a low scoring game and see what happens."

Beuter, a senior, has seen and played on many quality D-NH teams, and this group being the one to break through still felt "surreal" to the Kirkwood commit.

"We've had unbelievable teams that never could get it done," Beuter said. "It's kind of crazy. … It's sad that this is the last game we'll play on this field, but it's very satisfying that we finally got it done, but we can't think too long about it. We've got to keep moving forward."

After a brief scare involving a COVID-19 test for a member of the D-NH coaching staff that would have potentially ended D-NH's season earlier this month, the Wolverines' fate is in their own hands for Tuesday night.

"All of us have played plenty of baseball in our life," Wauters said. "Being ourselves and playing loose will go a long way. … It's just another game, let's go out and win it."


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