Some pre-game foreboding clouds that eventually broke apart served as the perfect metaphor for the top-seeded Cascade baseball team, that just won a post-season game that was a little too close for comfort.
Hosting an 8-29 Waukon club during the second round of district play, the Cougars hung on to a one-run lead, 3-2, to advance to the district finals, where they will face an Oelwein team that dashed their hopes for a state-berth last year.
Waukon kicked off the game with a base hit up the middle off Cougar ace pitcher Haris Hoffman. When Waukon attempted to bunt the runner over to second, a charging Ted Weber scooped up the dribbler and got the out at first. But, with no one covering third, Waukon attempted to get an extra base out of the situation. Luckily for the Cougars, Weber beat the runner to the bag and was able to lay down a tag just in time off a throw from first basemen Reid Rausch for a double play.
In the bottom of the inning, the Cougars capitalized on errors and put their only three runs of the game on the board.
After Wil Roling reached base, Hoffman split the infield to allow Roling to cross the plate standing. The Cougars eventually batted through the entire lineup, chasing Waukon’s starting pitcher off the mound early. A pair of wild pitches scored Menster and Rausch to give the Cougars a 3-0 lead.
With the bases loaded, Tanner Simon hit a liner to center field, but unfortunately for the Cougars, it was right at the center fielder to end the inning.
The momentum shifted in the top of the third when a series of Cascade errors and mental mistakes bought Waukon two runs, bringing the Indians within one.
Waukon got another boost of confidence in the bottom half of the inning as the Cougars went down in order.
Even with the unpredictability that goes hand-in-hand with the post-season, Hummel said the one thing he knew for sure is that he would get good senior leadership out of Hoffman on the mound.
“I knew Haris was going to be that guy — that’s why we started him,” Hummel said. “He competed and gave us a chance to win and at the end of the day he shouldn’t have given up any runs. We had a couple of errors that resulted in two runs and that changed the complexion of the game a little bit, but we were able to hold on.”
In the top of the fourth, a pair of errors prompted Rausch and Eli Green to make a defensive switch, putting the senior Rausch at shortstop.
In the top of the sixth, Hoffman hit his trademark no-nonsense groove. With his consistently speedy delivery to the plate, Hoffman was in and out of the inning in less than three minutes.
Hoffman was pulled in the top of the seventh with one out and one on as Rausch took the hill to face the top of the order. Rausch promptly coaxed a fly into the hands of right fielder Tanner Simon and then took the last one himself, striking out the final batter to end the game.
Hoffman capped out at 101 pitches, giving up no earned-runs on four hits while walking three and fanning seven. Rausch’s two-thirds of an inning netted him one strikeout on nine pitches.
For several of the Cougar starters, this was their first taste of the pressures of the post season.
“I think they were a little nervous,” Hummel said of some of the squad’s younger players. “I felt like going into the game that we had everything under control, but it just came out a little bit. Playing in a district game for those guys was important just to get their feet wet and we were fortunate to come out with the win.”
Hummel said he thinks now that they have gotten a taste, they will be better able to control some of the high-stakes, high-emotion situations with more maturity.
“Now that they’ve been in that moment, I think they’ll go into the next game feeling a little bit calmer and a little less tense,” Hummel said.