Southeast Polk extended its victory streak over Creston baseball to eight games in their meetings since 2013 in a 15-1 win Friday night at Panther Field.
Yet, both programs saw benefits to the matchup. In the homecoming for two Ram coaches, the Panthers were competitive in a fast-paced 7-1 game through five innings as sophomore Kyle Strider did a steady job on the mound against a potent Class 4A lineup.
Strider went five innings, exiting after 87 pitches and six earned runs allowed with two strikeouts and three free passes on a walk and two hit batters. Leading 7-1, the Rams then exploded with eight runs in the sixth to clinch the 10-run mercy rule win, on the strength of six hits and five walks against Panther relievers Cole Strider and Daniel Merritt.
Merritt quelled the outbreak with a pair of strikeouts and no hits allowed in his stint, but by then the damage was done.
The Panther offense, which had a 19-run outbreak one night earlier at Glenwood, was quiet against Ram pitcher Sam Stutzman. Leadoff batter Evan Bruce scored on Avery Fuller’s single in the first inning, and Stutzman hurled a shutout the rest of the way in picking up the victory. Bruce and Kyle Strider had the only other Creston hits in six innings.
“The level of pitching was better tonight,” Creston coach Steve Birchard said. “He’s a 4A pitcher and got ahead of us in the count a lot. We took too many pitches. We need to get more swings and get timed up on guys. The big inning kind of got us tonight. We were just outmanned a little bit.”
Former Panthers return
Former Creston player and assistant coach Dave Hartman has guided the Southeast Polk program since 2018, after two-time state champion coach Scott Belger — a former Creston all-state shortstop on the 1990 state runner-up Panther team — retired to become an administrator in the Southeast Polk district. Belger still volunteers as an assistant coach and enjoyed Friday’s homecoming by wearing a combination of Creston and Southeast Polk gear before the game.
“It was a well-paced game for awhile, and a good game, and then we kind of got going,” said Hartman. “Some of the guys we subbed in hit the heck out of the ball tonight.”
Starting catcher Austin Enos sparked the Rams from the top of the lineup with a 3-for-3 night including two home runs and three RBIs.
Retiring from teaching in the district and likely not maintaining the baseball coaching position he’s held since 2009 unless there is difficulty finding a successor, Birchard said the series with Southeast Polk has been beneficial.
“You appreciate playing teams like that. I hope they continue to play us,” Birchard said. “We haven’t beaten them, but we’ve done a nice job some years of sticking in there with them and competing. Scott and Dave both feel a relationship and respect for the Creston baseball program. We could have scheduled someone else and beaten them 15-1, but we wouldn’t see what it takes to be a good team. Just for our kids to watch them take infield, their approach to the game, you see guys playing at a high level with great coaching.”
Hartman said the nonconference game provides his team a chance to work on things between CIML doubleheaders. The Rams (7-2) face rival Dowling Catholic tonight (Monday).
“We look forward to coming down here and having Creston come to our place,” Hartman said. “Scott shows the guys that he used to live right behind the right field fence there, and I tell my stories about playing here. We like the people and we always recognize a lot of the names on the Creston team. We worked on some things tonight and got better, so it was a successful night.”
Creston, now 3-6, faces Atlantic tonight (Monday) at Griswold because of continuing remodeling of the Atlantic High School baseball/softball complex.
SE Polk 15, Creston 1
SEP 141 108 — 15 14 1
Crest 100 000 — 1 3 2
SEP pitching: Sam Stutzman 6 IP, 10 K, 1BB, 1 ER.
Creston pitching: Kyle Strider 5 IP, 2 K, 1 BB, 2 HBP, 6 ER; Cole Strider 1/3 IP, 0 K, 2 BB, 8 ER; Daniel Merritt 2/3 IP, 2 K, 3 BB, 0 ER.
SEP hitting: 2B – Makale Sercy, Gavin MCrory (2), Austin Enos. 3B — Gavin McCrory. HR — Austin Enos (2). Multiple hits — Enos 3, McCrory 3, Dawson Naeve 2, Matt Rivera 2. RBI — Enos 3, McCrory 3, Wadstrom 2, Naeve 1, Cale Sruprenant 1, Caleb Leclair 1. SB — Matt Rivers, Bennet Wadstrom (2), Austin Enos.
Creston hitting: 1B — Evan Bruce, Avery Fuller, Kyle Strider. RBI — Fuller 1. SB — Ethan Freeman, Evan Bruce.