With all apologies to the producers of the 1960s prime-time soap and the 2019 ESPN+ docu-series with similar names, but Saturday night, Harms Stadium at Hertel Field was Payton’s Place.
Waverly-Shell Rock senior Payton Leonard had quite a night in the Go-Hawks’ Northeast Iowa Conference baseball doubleheader with Charles City. In the first game, he threw six shutout innings of four-hit ball with eight strikeouts to pace W-SR to a 10-0, six-inning victory over the Comets.
And then in the nightcap, he helped complete the comeback with a walk-off double to score Tyler Heine for the 6-5 victory and finish the sweep. Heine had just reached on an error while legging out a potential double-play ground ball which allowed pinch runner Andy Roose to score the tying run.
Afterwards, while his teammates playfully mugged him, Leonard credited his pals for setting up the whole scenario.
“The first game was awesome,” Leonard said, “but the second game was definitely the best one. Some (adversity) hit us, and we just kept chipping away, and you know this team is really strong, and I knew that we were going to be able to do it tonight.
“Oh, my gosh! That was awesome!”
Head coach Casey Klunder agreed that his squad persevered through the setbacks of the second game of the night.
“We’ve responded to those moments so much more effectively than we did Tuesday (at West Delaware) and Wednesday (against Benton Community at home),” Klunder said. “I couldn’t be more proud when you have a big rally like that.
“I think it was senior, senior, senior right down the line in that last inning, and if you’re going to be successful against good teams in a good conference, you need your oldest players to play their best when it matters, and it certainly was the case tonight.”
He added he couldn’t be happier for Leonard’s performance throughout the night.
“He was dominant from start to finish in Game No. 1,” Klunder said, “and for him to have that type of an at bat in that situation (in Game 2), we’re leaning on our seniors right now, certainly, and boy he came through for us there.
“We’re so happy for him. He’s such a good kid. He works so hard, he deserves it.”
In Game 1, Leonard was able to keep the Comet hitters off balance. He was able to establish his fastball early, and then mixed his off-speed and breaking pitches. He only walked one Charles City batter in the game, hit one, and one other batter reached on a fielding error in the second inning.
He said his third outing on the mound for the young season was a good one.
“My arm’s keeping up, it’s strong,” Leonard said. “I’ve got no pain right now.
“Games like that, I know there are guys that are going to be able to hit it. I have a great defense behind me to make those plays that they did tonight. I know I feel very strongly about my defense behind me. I don’t have to always strike everybody out. I know my guys can make plays.”
Meanwhile, the bats were hopping for the Go-Hawks. They scored three in the bottom of the first, with as Carson Graven hit a bases-loaded single to score Kaden Dewey and Jeremy Chaplin, during which Brodey Key went to third base from first, followed by a sacrifice fly off the bat of Ben Buseman to bring Key home.
The score remained 3-0 until the fourth. With one out, Heine smacked a double to right-center to bring home Chase Carpenter, and he scored on a double by Leonard on the first pitch he saw. After a walk and then an error by pitcher Tait Arndt, Chaplin drove home Leonard with a sac fly to right, and then Key drove home Dewey with a single to left to make it 7-0 after four.
The game came to a close in the bottom of the sixth. After a single by Leonard and walks to Dewey and Chaplin to load the bases, Key singled to right to bring home Leonard. Graven then grounded to second baseman Hunter Sullivan, which would have scored Dewey, but Sullivan threw the ball away to also allow Chaplin to score to end it by mercy rule.
Key was 3-for-3 with two RBIs in the opener, while Leonard was 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI, with Roose, who was his courtesy runner, scored twice. Dewey scored three times, going 1-for-1 with two walks and getting hit once. Carpenter was also 2-for-3 with a double, and Heine also hit a two-bagger.
Arndt allowed six earned runs over 4 1/3 innings for the Comets in the loss, while allowing nine hits and four walks with a strikeout. Dawson Hinders threw for 2/3 of an inning plus five batters in the sixth, allowing two earned on two hits with a walk.
Klunder said the Go-Hawks were put up some quality plate appearances in the opener in a close game.
“Even in the innings we didn’t score in Game 1, I felt we strung together good at bats and hit the ball hard,” he said. “I think we were constantly putting the pressure on them in Game 1, and we were able to break through there towards the end.”
In Game 2, things didn’t start out well for W-SR. They gave up their first run of the season in conference play in the first inning. Elliott Sinwell led off with a single, took second on a bunt, and then scored on a throwing error when Graven airmailed his throw to first to try to get Arndt.
The Comets added another run in the third inning. Sinwell singled, stole second following an unsuccessful rundown off a pickoff, but then got caught at third on a fielder’s choice off the bat of J.J. Ritter. Ritter then advanced on a Brodey Key passed ball on a pitch from brother Chance and a groundout by Arndt before scoring on a single by Atticus Parrott.
Charles City then added two more in the fourth. Kaden Barry reached on an error, and Tino Tamayo drove him home on a double to left. One out later, Tamayo scored on a single to left by Jeremiah Chapman.
W-SR answered in the bottom half with a pair of their own. Noah Jeppesen and Heine started the inning with walks that forced starter Parrott off the mound. After a flyout, Dewey singled to right to bring home Jeppesen, and then Heine followed following a throwing error by Parrott, now playing right field.
The Comets got one back in the sixth. After a strikeout, Chapman walked and stole second. Then with two out, Sinwell singled to center to bring in Chapman.
“It went sideways on us early,” Klunder said. “It was a good opportunity to learn in those moments. It was fun to watch how we handled it.”
But the Go-Hawks responded with to more runs in the bottom half. Heine reached on an error by Hinders, and then Leonard hit a single to left to put runners on first and second. Heine advanced to third on a flyout to deep center, and then Chaplin scored both runners on a double off the top of the left-field fence to pull W-SR within 5-4 after six.
Then the big seventh inning occurred. With one out, Carpenter singled into right field, and then Jeppesen got hit by a pitch. Heine then grounded the ball to Ritter, who stepped on second to force out Jeppesen. However, due to Heine’s speed, Ritter’s throw to first to potentially end the game went awry, allowing Roose, pinch running, to score. Then Leonard sent everyone wearing black and gold home happy by driving a 1-1 offering from reliever Sinwell into left-center to score Heine for the 6-5 win.
Klunder said the dugout got more into it as the Go-Hawks drew closer and closer to the Comets.
“The energy was great throughout the competition,” he said. “I felt we were in it all the way to the very end. I thought we handled it the right way.”
Leonard said his team knows they can overcome adversity like what happened in the nightcap.
“Our goal is to keep chipping away,” he said. “Our saying is, ‘Win anyways.’ We’re down 4-0, win anyways. Everybody was going up there with a mentality of hitting the ball hard and stroking base hits, and balls are dropping in places where you don’t think would drop. It just started working out for us.”
Leonard was 4-for-5 in the second game with a double and the game-winning RBI and a stolen base. Chaplin had two RBIs with his 1-for-2 outing with a double and two walks. For the Comets, Sinwell was 3-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored.
Graven earned the win in relief. He threw for 1 1/3 innings, allowing just two hits and striking out one batter. Chance Key allowed three earned runs, five overall on six hits in 5 2/3 innings while striking out six, walking three and picking off two base runners.
Sinwell shouldered the loss, throwing for three-plus innings, allowing four runs, two earned, on six hits with a walk, a hit batter and three K’s. Parrott also had three-plus innings with only one earned run on two hits, but had four walks and sat down three.
Tuesday, West Delaware 4, W-SR 2
To start the week, the Go-Hawks went to Manchester to face West Delaware in a non-conference game and fell, 4-2. Varsity Bound had an incomplete inning-by-inning scoring.
Leonard threw for three innings, fanned five Hawks and gave up nothing else. However, Graven allowed two runs, one earned on two hits with a walk and two strikeouts in one inning, and Chance Key gave up five hits, two earned runs and a walk while fanning four in two innings in the loss.
At the plate, Kaden Dewey was 2-for-2 with a home run, and Jeppesen was 2-for-3.
Klunder said the Go-Hawks had many opportunities during that game that were squandered.
“I’m glad we learned from those types of things as the week went forward with itself,” he said. “I thought we got great pitching that night. We just had to string more quality at bats together and get a few more key hits.”
Wednesday, Benton 4, W-SR 2
At Harms, the Go-Hawks got out to a 1-0 lead after one inning, but Benton tied it in the fourth and grabbed a 3-1 lead in the fifth, holding on to a 4-2 victory on Wednesday.
Heine led at the plate with a 2-for-2 effort with a double, while Dewey and Chaplin each drove in a run. On the mound, Dewey threw for four innings, allowing an earned run on four hits with four walks, a hit batter and three strikeouts. Chaplin threw one inning with a walk, a strikeout and an HBP, but Heine allowed two earned in 1/3 inning on two hits and two walks to shoulder the loss. Carpenter then allowed one hit, one run and had one strikeout in 1 2/3 innings.
Klunder felt Dewey was good on the hill, and the senior relievers had some good appearances.
“We just had to string together hits, and we just couldn’t,” Klunder said. “It hard to give away an at bat in the middle of a rally.
“We got great pitching here all week. We just had to string together the hits in order to (win).”
Thursday, W-SR 16-8, Waukon 0-0
The Go-Hawks bounced back Thursday to sweep an NICL doubleheader at Waukon. W-SR took the opener, 16-0, in six innings, on the strength of an eight-run sixth after single runs in the first, third, fourth and fifth and four in the second. They completed the sweep and an 8-0 win, with three in the first, two each in the second and fifth and one more in the sixth.
Buseman took the victory in Game 1, allowing only three hits and three walks while sitting down nine Indians in five innings. Jack Cole came on for one inning and just had a walk.
At the plate in the first game, Brodey Key had four RBIs on a 3-for-4 game with a double, and Heine and Dewey each drove home three.
In the second game, Thomas Hart had five innings with two hits, three walks and four strikeouts, while Roose threw for two frames with a hit, three walks and two K’s.
Chapin had a big night at the plate, as he went 2-for-2 with a triple and a home run, and Leonard had an RBI double as part of his 1-for-3 game. Dewey, Brodey Key, Graven, Buseman and Carpenter each had a run driven in as well.
Klunder said that double header was all about the juniors who threw on the mound for the Go-Hawks.
“We had four juniors who threw a combined shutout in both games,” he said. “The junior pitchers were phenomenal. Some of them were making their varsity debuts, so we enjoyed watching them pitch; they pitched really well, so that set us up for success at Waukon.”
Go-Hawks, Vikings tied atop NICL
After two weeks of play, W-SR is in a tie for the top of the NICL with Decorah, as each have a 6-0 conference record. The Vikings are 6-1 overall, while the Go-Hawks are 6-2, and the two teams will meet on a pre-Independence Day twinbill on Friday at Harms.
But first, W-SR will go to Cresco to face Crestwood (5-3, 5-3) and then up to Calmar on Thursday to face Class 1A pre-season No. 4 South Winneshiek (12-0, 9-0 Upper Iowa).
Klunder said the team is having a lot of fun in the COVID-19-shortened season.
“We’re happy to be playing,” he said. “We’re learning as we go.
“We’re not a finished product by any means, but we’re learning every day. It’s just been fun to hang out with these guys. We have such good team camaraderie, and I enjoy coming to the ballpark and spend time with them every day.”