FARLEY, Iowa -- After last Friday’s quarterfinal victory over Monticello, Western Dubuque head baseball coach Casey Bryant said his team would have to swing the bats better to reach its ultimate goal.
Unfortunately for the Bobcats, the offense came too little, too late.
Western Dubuque’s season came to an end Monday night with a 5-3 loss to Independence in an Iowa Class 3A Substate 3 semifinal at Farley Park.
Independence advanced to Wednesday’s substate final against Dubuque Wahlert at Petrakis Park.
“The last few weeks of the season, our bats have just not been hot,” Bryant said. “Our team batting average I think dropped 30 points in the last 17-18 days. We thought if we could just keep playing defense, keep pitching and just hang in there until our bats started coming back to life, we’d have a great chance.”
Despite managing only six hits, the Bobcat offense had plenty of opportunities.
In each of the first six innings, Western Dubuque advanced runners into scoring position. Through the first five, the Bobcats just were not able to capitalize. The Independence pitchers were even doing their part in aiding the WD hitters by issuing seven walks through five innings.
“We just stranded way too many guys,” Bryant said. “We have been doing it all year long. It’s just killed us all year long where we get guys on and we’re just not hitting them in. We get guys on, get them moved up, and we just couldn’t get them in.”
The Mustangs grabbed the lead off Bobcat ace Ryan Klosterman in the third inning when Keegan Palmer led off with a single and came all the way around to score on Marcus Beatty’s RBI triple. Beatty scored and made it 2-0 on a run-scoring ground out by Trey Weber.
Independence added two more in the fourth inning. Drew Beatty led off with a single and No. 8 hitter Dalton Hoover followed with a towering two-run blast over the right-field fence to extend the Mustang lead to 4-0.
After issuing his fifth walk of the game, Western Dubuque was able to get into the Mustang bullpen and chase starting pitcher Teegan McEnany in the bottom of the fourth. But reliver Korver Hupke coaxed a fly out and a strikeout to again strand multiple Bobcats on the basepaths.
Back-to-back doubles in the fifth by Mitchell Johnson and Hupke made it a 5-0 advantage, but it appeared that WD might crawl its way back in the bottom half.
Jake Goodman led off with a single and advanced to second on a throwing error. With first base open, Independence walked Sawyer Nauman intentionally, and Jayden Siegert followed with another free pass to load the bases with one out.
Once again though, Hupke wiggled his way out with a fielder’s choice force out at home and a strikeout. Through five innings, the Bobcats had stranded 11 runners on base, with runners reaching at least second base in each frame.
Bryant joked after the game about his team’s ability all season to get hits, but not when it mattered most.
“We are the best .300 hitting team with nobody on base,” he said. “But, that doesn’t help us win games.”
WD finally came to life in the bottom of the sixth with a two-rally. Nick Bryant blooped a double into short center-field and Garret Baumhover followed with a walk. Goodman then brought the Bobcat crowd to life with an RBI double to left-center. After another intentional pass to Nauman, Siegert came through with an infield single to score two and cut the deficit to 5-3.
It was as close as Western Dubuque would get.
Unlike Friday’s contest when Monticello’s decision to work around Nauman came back to haunt the Panthers, it worked in Independence’s favor on Monday. The Mustangs were not going to allow the Bobcat slugger to beat them, as they issued him a free pass in each plate appearance – two intentionally -- but Nauman didn’t parlay the walks into runs.
The Bobcats went down the quietest when they needed the most in the seventh. In the only inning of the game in which they didn’t advance a runner into scoring position, Tucker Nauman’s leadoff single was all they could muster in the last frame.
Goodman led the Bobcats at the plate with a 2-for-3 effort, as they closed their season at 17-19.
Despite the loss of an influential senior class, Bryant says there is a lot to look forward to heading into next season.
“We have a lot of good players coming back,” he said. “We are going to have to be a whole lot better offensively to make up for the loss of our senior class. We have some guys who have a lot of work to do in the cage this winter, but we love our defense and we have five of our top six pitchers back. There’s a lot to build on and we will just keep moving forward.”