August 04, 2021

New London clips Raiders, 4-2

Knapp fans 11 in final start for Mount Ayr

OSKALOOSA — Seventh-ranked New London improved to 26-1 in earning its first trip to the state baseball tournament since 2008 in a 4-2 substate victory over Mount Ayr Tuesday night at Oskaloosa High School.

The Tigers’ only loss all season was a 4-0 setback against West Burlington on July 1. The winning streak extended to eight games Tuesday, but it was anything but easy.

New London starting pitcher Hecneil Rodriguez and Mount Ayr senior Briar Knapp were lodged in a pitching duel, combining for 20 strikeouts before both reached the state’s pitch count limit of 110 pitches during the sixth inning. New London was clinging to a 3-2 lead until adding an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth.

“I had a feeling it was going to be a low-scoring game like that with those pitchers on the mound,” said New London coach Brad Helmerson. “It was big to get that extra run there and settle everyone down a little bit. Getting the Frost kid out to start that seventh inning was a huge play for us.”

Frost, the leading hitter in the state with a .641 batting average going into the game, had two singles and a walk with a run scored earlier in the game before a groundout out to second base in his final plate appearance Tuesday.

Frost was waiting on deck as the Raiders’ half of the sixth ended on a close play at first as Ryce Reynolds was thrown out by New London third baseman Ryan Richey after hitting a ground ball. Two runners were left on base as the score stood at 3-2 at the time.

Chalk it up as a missed opportunity, as well as the fifth inning that ended on a double play on a strikeout and throw behind the runner at first by catcher Tucker Gibbar that got Trae Ehlen of the Raiders caught in a rundown play,

“We had a couple of bang-bang plays that didn’t go our way tonight that might have made a difference,” Mount Ayr coach Chris Elwood said. “When Ryce was called out, we had Jaixen coming up next with runners in scoring position. But that’s baseball. I thought we played well and Briar Knapp pitched his heart out for us as a senior.”

Knapp fanned 11 batters against a lineup that has batted .378 as a team this summer. He walked four and allowed five hits. Dawson Swank pitched the final out of the sixth and allowed one hit.

Rodriguez was equally strong on the mound for the Tigers, finishing with nine strikeouts, four walks and five hits allowed in holding a 3-1 lead when he left because of the pitch count. A runner on base when he left, Adler Shay, ended up scoring Mount Ayr’s second run on Swank’s groundout. Frost scored the first run in the third inning on Shay’s groundout to shortstop.

Frost and first baseman Jaydon Knight each had two of Mount Ayr’s five hits in the game. Shay had the other in leading off the sixth inning.

Ryan Richey hit a solo home run for New London in the second inning to break the scoreless tie. It turned out to be the only extra base hit in the game.

While it was disappointing to come up short of the school’s second trip to the state baseball tournament, Elwood noted how well the Raiders competed with a state-ranked team that’s 26-1. He said he couldn’t have asked for a better effort.

“In a game like this, somebody has to lose and it hurts right now,” Elwood said. “But, once we have a little time to process it, the kids will realize what a fantastic season we had, splitting the conference title and going 21-5. I couldn’t be more proud of the guys.”

Seniors in their final game for the Raiders were outfielders Trae Ehlen and Erik Trujillo, and infielders/pitchers Swank and Knapp.

LARRY PETERSON

Former senior feature writer at Creston News Advertiser and columnist. Previous positions include sports editor for many years and assistant editor. Also a middle school basketball coach in Creston.