They weren’t going to go down without a fight.
Dubuque County’s reign as the American Legion Central Plains Regional baseball champion came to an end on Thursday morning, but not without a dramatic seventh-inning comeback attempt.
Renner, S.D., batted around in two separate innings en route to a 10-8 victory in an elimination game at the eight-team tournament at historic Sioux Falls Stadium in Sioux Falls, S.D. But Dubuque County scored four times in the top of the seventh inning and had the potential tying run on second base before falling just short.
“That just shows you what Dubuque County baseball is all about,” said Cascade second baseman Reid Rausch, who went 3-for-4 with a pair of RBIs. “It all starts with our coaches. They keep our attitudes up on the bench, no matter the situation, and we feed off their energy.
“As long as we approached it one at a time and kept getting base hit after base hit, we knew we’d be able to pull ourselves back in the game. We just came up one hit short.”
Head coach Rob Hoerner’s staff includes assistants Ronnie Kramer, Jeff Nadermann and D.J. Deardorff and Legion representative Mike Gehl. They also guided Dubuque County last season, when it became the first Iowa team to advance to the American Legion World Series since 1986.
Dubuque County won the state title for the second straight season this spring, but it went 0-2 in Sioux Falls. Appleton, Wis., beat Dubuque County in the opening-round game, 9-4.
“These 15 kids … they’re great ballplayers, but they’re even better kids,” Hoerner said. “That’s what makes this fun for us coaches. I love being around such a great group of kids who respect the game and play it well.
“We never gave up, and we were one or two hits away from winning the son of a gun. Just like yesterday, we hit the ball hard all day, but it was always right at somebody. The guys battled their butts off both games, but the baseball gods weren’t with us. It wasn’t meant to be, I guess.”
Renner batted around in the bottom of the first inning while taking a quick 3-0 lead. The Royals’ rally included just one hit, but four walks and a hit batsman. Daulton Vanderloo opened the scoring with a two-run single just over the third base bag, and Chase Merrill drove in another run with a two-out bases-loaded walk.
Dubuque County got one of those runs back in the next half inning. Haris Hoffman reached on a one-out throwing error and came around to score when Matt Maiers ripped a two-out double to the wall in left field.
The Royals added another run in the third. Andy Moen walked, Vanderloo drew a hit batsman, and Reece Arbogast advanced both runners with a bunt. Zakk Evers drove in the run with a well-placed chopper over the mound that Rausch fielded for the out.
Renner chased Dubuque County starter Casey Perrenoud in the fourth. Sam Stukel reached on an infield hit, moved up on a wild pitch and scored on C.J. Stukel’s bad-hop single into left-centerfield to make it 5-1.
Renner tacked on four more runs in the inning while sending a total of 10 batters to the plate. Moen drove in a run with an infield single, two more came across on Vanderloo’s base hit to left field and an error gave Renner a ninth run.
Dubuque County came right back the following inning, after Cody Deardorff walked and Maiers drew a hit batsman to open a rally. Matty Schmitz delivered a two-out, two-run triple to left-centerfield, and Rausch followed with an RBI double over the left fielder’s head to make it 9-4.
Renner wrapped up its scoring in the bottom of the sixth on a two-out RBI single by Merrill.
Dubuque County kept battling in the seventh. Charlie Jaeger led off with a walk but was forced out on Nick Offerman’s fielder’s choice. Carter Kluesner followed with a base hit, and Rausch drilled another single to left field to drive in a run. Kluesner scampered home on a wild pitch, and Wil Courtney doubled inside the left-field line to drive in another run and pull Dubuque County within three.
Hoffman extended the inning with a base hit, and Riley Reed doubled inside the right field line to make it a two-run game and put the potential tying run on second base. But Maiers fouled out to the catcher to end the game.
“One through nine, everybody in our lineup is capable of getting a big hit,” Rausch said. “As long as we believed in ourselves and believed in our teammates, we knew we could put up some runs in the end.”