May 16—COUNCIL BLUFFS — Pitch it. Field it. Hit it.
It's can be a simple game when a team does those three things, and for the 39th time this season, Indian Hills did it enough to earn another victory. This time, it made them a Regional Champion as the Warriors upset fifth-rated Iowa Western, 7-3 in the decisive third game of the Region XI Tournament at Doc Ross Field.
The two teams had split the first two games of the series on Friday to force the winner-take-all game three on Saturday, and IHCC Head Coach Matt Torrez for the third straight time turned to a third year COVID-sophomore, this time in the form of Wyatt Wendell to take the hill.
Wendell, just like Maddux Hoaglund and Nick Marshall before him, gave Torrez a sterling performance, as the Purdue signee went eight innings and only gave up two runs in the second inning against the 50-win Reivers. In fact, Iowa Western would only manage eight runs in the entire three-game set against Warrior pitching.
"We came into the weekend and our goal was to score five runs per game," said Torrez. "I thought if we score five runs, our pitching and our defense will play good enough, we'll really have a chance. And the one game we didn't score five runs, we got beat. And, the games we scored five runs, we won. Iowa Western is a good club. Mark Rardin does a great job, so you come in here and we talked yesterday about taking a split on day one, and then you see what happens in game three, and that's exactly what we went for."
"They keep running arm after arm after arm out of there and our guys just kept battling and battling and battling and, you know, Wyatt did a great job for us with eight innings, but I think we just got in there and decided we wanted to stay a little while."
The Warriors made sure to set the tone right out of the chute in the top of the first as C.J. Castillo continued his torrid weekend by walking, stealing second and scoring on a Noel Perez double.
The talented Reivers would answer in the bottom of the third, as Wendell hit Thatcher Kozal to start the inning, and then Kyle Huckstorf plopped a one-out single to right to put two runners on. An Aaron Staehely single and a Carter Wright groundout scored the only two IWCC runs of the game as Wendell would get Alec Patino on strikes to get out of the inning.
The Warriors would answer right away in the fourth with their biggest inning of the contest as IHCC would plate four in the frame. Ricardo Van Grieken drew a four-pitch walk to get things going and then with one out, Dave Janssen and Arturo Rodriguez had back-to-back singles to tie it back up at 2-2. Samuel Fortier would late draw another walk to load the bags before Castillo delivered the biggest hit of the ballgame with a three-RBI double to center to make it 5-2, Warriors.
"There's always a guy that you get him in playoff season that just shows up and you're like, hey man, that guy went out and won the weekend for us," Torrez said. "C.J. was that guy."
IHCC would get an insurance run in the sixth when Pier-Olivier Boucher tripled and scored on a wild pitch to make it 6-2. Meanwhile, Wendell had settled in and used 95 pitches to get through his eight innings of work. The Warrior righty scattered seven hits, striking out seven and walking three.
Torrez turned to Douglas Rojas to pitch the ninth, and the two teams traded single tallies in the final inning, but the Warriors had done enough damage to keep the Reivers at bay. Rojas struck out Iowa Western's leadoff hitter Hucksdorf sending the IHCC players out onto the astroturf infield at Doc Ross Field in a wild celebration.
"The energy they've brought for last two weekends has been great," Torrez said. "Our kids really came out with something to prove, and I don't think they want to go home, and that's part of it. That's part of playoff baseball, and who wants to stay around. School is finally over for us, and we get to just go worry about baseball right now."
Indian Hills now advances to the Midwest District Tournament which will be hosted by South Suburban College in South Holland, Illinois. The Warriors (39-13) will open play on Wednesday against Kaskaskia (27-22-1) in the four-team double-elimination format at 3 p.m. South Suburban (41-17) will square off with top-ranked Wabash Valley (51-3) in the opener at noon.
"I know as I get a little older, I have started to understand that these things don't happen all the time, and that you do really need to sit back and enjoy it," Torrez said. "Enjoy the kids and have a good time. I'm so happy for the guys and the year they've had so far."