Wartburg Is Outright Iowa Conference Baseball Champ
Already guaranteed a share of the Iowa Conference championship, the 15th-ranked Wartburg baseball team entered the final day of regular season play needing one win to claim the title outright. Mission accomplished.
The 15th-ranked Knights swept Coe 4-2 and 6-5 to clinch their third regular-season league championship in the last four years on Saturday (May 7, 2016). The title is Wartburg's 15th under head coach Joel Holst and the 21st in program history.
The Knights (31-9 overall, 24-4 IIAC) will be the top seed in the Iowa Conference tournament next week. After a first-round bye, Wartburg will play the winner of the four-seed vs. five-seed game at 7 p.m. on Thursday on Perfect Game Field at Veteran's Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids.
In the first game of the day, the Kohawks (17-19, 12-16) jumped on the Knights early. Coe plated two runs in the top of first inning, but Wartburg answered with three in the second. The home squad got on a single from junior Mike Brown (Bettendorf), a perfectly executed bunt from senior Tyler Willis (Waverly) and a fielder's choice by sophomore Blake Mahoney (Des Moines), as the Knights rallied for a 3-2 lead.
Wartburg added an insurance run in the fifth inning when junior Jake Thumann (DeWitt) hit a solo home run that cleared the trees behind Hertel Field's left field fence. Thumann ended the game 2-for-2 at the plate.
On the mound, junior Max Langheinrich (Minnetonka, Minn.) pitched the distance to earn the win.
The Kohawks did not have a runner advance past first base after the first inning.
In the series finale, Coe again took the early lead. The Kohawks scored on a ground out in the second inning, putting the visitors ahead 1-0.
Wartburg again answered quickly. The Knights tied the game in the bottom of the frame when senior Ryan Kemp (Keokuk) hit a lead off home run to a similar spot as Thumann's in the opener. Sophomore Cody Hyler (Des Moines) and Willis followed with back-to-back RBI singles to give Wartburg a 3-1 advantage.
Coe scored on sacrifice flies in the third and fifth innings, before Wartburg regained control of the game in the sixth. Senior Milton Croes (Noord, Aruba) plated the go-ahead runs when he slugged a two-run triple to right field. The Knights built their advantage to 6-3 in the seventh when they produced another run while executing a double steal.
The Kohawks sliced the margin to one in the eighth, scoring on another sacrifice fly and an RBI double. The rally ended when next batter grounded out, leaving the would-be tying run at third base.
Willis went 2-for-3 in the victory. He was one of nine seniors who played their final home game at Hertel Field. All nine players were recognized during a ceremony that preceded the second game.
By winning both games on Saturday, Wartburg became the first team in Iowa Conference history to win a four-game regular-season series against every league opponent. Conference officials adopted the four-game league format in 2013.