July 18, 2024

Panther pitchers shut down Knights

Creston's Parker Varner sends a pitch to the plate against Carroll Kuemper Catholic Monday. Varner pitched a complete game with six strikeouts, no walks and six hits allowed in the 9-2 Panther victory.

Going into Monday’s home doubleheader against Carroll Kuemper Catholic, Creston baseball coach Brandon Phipps talked to his team about ways to get back on track after an up-and-down week that included two close losses to Clarinda and Treynor.

“We really went back to stressing pitching and defense,” Phipps said. “We had to reflect a little bit after last week when we had a few hiccups on the defensive side. We also talked about hitting line drives and hitting it hard on the ground. No weak popups. I think everyone was trying to hit bombs. We told them we’ve only hit six all year, so if you’re trying to do that, the odds are not in your favor.”

Shortstop Cael Turner charges a groundball during Creston's home doubleheader Monday against Carroll Kuemper Catholic. Turner had three hits and scored two runs in the doubleheader sweep. He pitched a four-hit shutout with 11 strikeouts in Tuesday's 9-0 win at Glenwood.

Mission accomplished.

Creston swept the Knights, 9-2 and 4-0, on two pitching gems by Parker Varner and Dylan Hoepker, backed by some sparkling defensive plays. The offense rapped 16 hits, including timely two-out scoring hits.

“The offense was good,” Phipps said. “We got on base and had some timely hits that got through. The back of our order really sparked us in game one. The catch in right field by Gavin Millslagle in right field really sparked us. That was a momentum shift. Coach (Conner) Pals does a great job scouting it out, and we watched a lot of film on them. We knew they had a lot of lefties in their lineup and our right side had to be locked in.”

The quick, effective work on the mound by Varner and Hoepker helped the defense stay sharp. Kuemper managed only one earned run and seven hits for the night.

Creston second baseman Dylan Hoepker throws out a runner at first base after fielding a groundball in Creston's 9-2 win over Kuemper Catholic Monday. Hoepker pitched a one-hit shutout in the second game with 12 strikeouts in the 4-0 victory.

Varner struck out six, walked none and allowed six hits. Hoepker absolutely dominated the Knights in a one-hitter with 12 strikeouts and no walks.

“When Dylan is locating his fastball, he’s almost unhittable,” said assistant coach Cole Crawford, who works with the pitchers and calls pitches in games. “He has some velo, some pop to him, and then he comes in with the off-speed. Varner can kind of pitch people backwards, because his slider is his best strike-throwing pitch. When he also throws his fastball and curveball for strikes it makes it pretty easy for us calling pitches.”

Phipps said the two complete games for wins set up the week well, with senior Cael Turner hurling another shutout Tuesday at Glenwood in another key game, and Milo Staver in line for Thursday’s start at Red Oak.

“The pitchers were locked in from the start,” Phipps said. “They knew how big these conference games are for us. Once Dylan gets in that rhythm and he’s locating both his fastball and curveball for strikes, he’s extremely dangerous. Parker was outstanding as well, locating multiple pitches for strikes. Limited free passes and we were playing good defense. it was a good night for us.”

Hoepker went 3-of-4 at the top of the lineup in the opener, driving in three runs. Tanner Ray had two hits, including a double. Turner and Tyler Riley also doubled for the Panthers and Riley stole two bases. Millslagle’s running catch deep in right field kept it at a 1-1 tie in the second inning when the Knights had two runners on base, ending the inning.

Turner had a double and single in the second game and multiple good plays at shortstop in game two. First baseman Sam Henry also took away a possible extra base hit by snaring a one-hopper near the foul line and beating the runner to the bag. McCoy Haines had a hustling baserunning play, breaking from second on the pitch when Riley drew a walk and running safely home on a head-first slide as a wild pitch bounced to the backstop.

Gavin Millslagle of Creston beats the throw to home plate to score on Tyler Riley's double in the first game of Monday's doubleheader against Kuemper Catholic. Millslagle had two hits in the doubleheader and made a spectacular catch in deep right field to thwart a Knight rally in the second inning.

“I was going to hold him up, but I’m glad he went!’ Phipps said, noting the run gave Hoepker and the defense a 4-0 cushion in the fourth inning. Both offense were quiet the rest of the game, with Hoepker finishing strong on three strikeouts in the seventh.

Conference race

The sweep improved Creston to 13-6 overall and 8-2 in the Hawkeye Ten, in second place behind Clarinda at 9-0. After Tuesday’s games, Lewis Central stands in third at 5-3, with Harlan and Kuemper Catholic tied at 6-4 in fourth place.

Creston catcher Milo Staver makes a pickoff throw to first base during Monday's doubleheader against Carroll Kuemper Catholic. Staver was 1-of-3 at the plate in the 9-2 victory.

“Clarinda is a good team and we know they have to play a lot of good teams yet,” Phipps said. “We just have to control what we can control. Glenwood is a big one and then we have Red Oak on Thursday. Our last conference title was in 1993. Our last state tournament was 2007. Those things are a focus for us, but it’s still early. We just have to keep getting better as a team.”

Turner pitched a four-hit shutout at Glenwood Tuesday night, striking out 11 with three walks. He also had one hit and drove in two runs. Hoepker stayed hot with a 3-of-5 night at the plate and two runs scored in the 9-0 win. Mikkelsen and Haines each had two hits. Staver was 1-of-2 with three RBIs. Haines and Hoepker had doubles in Creston’s 11-hit attack.

Red Oak goes into Thursday’s game at 4-13 overall and 0-10 in the conference.

Larry Peterson

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.