The baseball gods can be cruel.
Even after overcoming a 7-0 deficit to take the lead in the bottom of the sixth, a pair of cheap runs scored on a bad throw to first in the eleventh hour dashed any hopes the Cascade Cougars had of heading to state. Oelwein advanced to the sub-state final with a 9-8 district final win.
It was a game marked by ups-and-downs, high emotions and plenty of stress, but in the end the Cougars ultimately failed to secure their story-book comeback.
After putting up three runs in the fourth and another two in the fifth, the Cougars were still staring at a 7-5 game. With two outs and two on, senior Reid Rausch sailed a ball over the left center fence to send the dugout into a frenzy and give them an 8-7 lead.
It turned out to be one of the Cougars’ oldest nemesis that would ultimately be their downfall — giving away free bases.
The Cougars looked like a team that’s won 20-plus games during the first inning. Rausch punched a quick inning on the mound, coaxing two strikeouts and a fly to left.
In the bottom half of the inning, Wil Roling sliced a double down the left field line to kick things off for the Cougars. Haris Hoffman’s bunt moved Roling to third, where he was stranded.
The Cougars took the field again after a brief rain delay and a hit up the middle followed by a walk gave Oelwein runners on first and second with no outs. After a bunt moved both runners into scoring position, the Cougar infield was playing in.
Third baseman Ted Weber scooped up a chopper down the line and cut down a potential run at the plate for the second out. With runners at the corners, Rausch buckled some knees with an off-speed pitch to end the threat.
In the top of the third, Rausch was having trouble finding the zone. After another walk put runners on first and second with one out, coach Roamn Hummel visited the mound.
In the next at bat, shortstop Hoffman reeled in a grounder and flipped it to Roling at second, but they couldn’t turn two, and a run was allowed to score.
Another walk then loaded the bases.
A weak fly to right-center was just missed by a diving Tanner Simon and resulted in two more runs crossing the plate. That was the last batter for Rausch. Sophomore Eli Green then took the mound with inherited runners on the corners. Yet another walk loaded the bases. A ball in the dirt shuffled another run across the plate to make it 4-0 before the Cougars could finally get out of the inning.
In the top of the fourth, more walks took Green off the mound to make way for sophomore Kaleb Topping, who was looking at runners on first and second with one out.
A sacrifice bunt moved the runners over but Topping was now working with two outs. As it was beginning to look like they were going to get out of the inning unscathed, Oelwein pitcher Steven Nicolay helped himself by knocking a three-run bomb over the left field fence to make it 7-0. Topping caught the final batter looking to get out of the inning.
In the bottom of the fourth, Riley Reed slapped a single to left, bringing courtesy runner Jack Menster onto the pads. Menster stole second and a balk moved him to third. Logan Otting chopped one through a gap in the infield to give Cascade its first run of the game.
Ted Weber then hit a ball to the fence, which scored Otting and brought Weber to second. Topping would knock in Weber, bringing the score to 7-3 at the end of the inning.
Topping made it through a scoreless top of the fifth and in the bottom of the inning with one out, Rausch hit a triple to right field and brought wind back to Cascade’s sails. Reed then watched four straight balls for a walk to give the Cougars two on with one down.
A sacrifice-fly from Otting scored Rausch, bringing up Weber, who hit another ball off the fence to make it 7-5.
Oelwein was held scoreless again in the sixth.
With two outs in the bottom half of the inning, Roling was beaned and Hoffman barely reached after beating out an infield single.
In the next at bat, Rausch hit a towering fly ball to left center that cleared the fence and sent the Cougars’ dugout sprinting onto the field.
With the energy completely switched going into the last inning, a called third strike and some lip from an Oelwein player resulted in an ejection to start the inning. But free passes once again reared an ugly head.
Two beans and a walk loaded the bases with two outs. A ground ball to Rausch looked like it would end the game, but the throw to first was high and two runs scored as a result. The Cougars were able to get a tag play at second for the last out of the inning, but they were once again playing from behind.
In what would be the Cougars’ last inning of the year, a pair of strikeouts and a groundout ended the season.