ST. JOSEPH, Mo. – The No. 4 vs. No. 5 matchup in Friday’s first round of the Class 1, District 16 Tournament at St. Joseph Christian certainly lived up to the hype as West Nodaway rallied past North Andrew for a 7-6 victory.
“That was a much-needed win,” West Nodaway coach Jacob Sunderman said. “We battled back and like I told the kids, we have the potential and ability to finish games, we just have to believe in ourselves and do it.”
The Rockets were able to pull off the victory despite finishing the game with only two hits. The two hits were big ones though with each coming off the bat of junior Korbin Koch.
“He came up huge,” Sunderman, who promised Koch a game-ball afterwards, said.
In the first inning, Koch got West Nodaway started with a two-out triple and came in to score on passed ball and the Rockets had the early 1-0 lead.
That lead was short lived however with the Cardinals immediately responding with a run in the top of the second, although Rocket junior Parker Ogle was able to worked out of a runners on second and third, no out jam after allowing the run. The game was tied at 1-1.
After clean third innings from both teams, Ogle found himself in trouble again in the top of the fourth inning and this time he was in the wrong part of the order to work out of it. North Andrew pitcher Orlo Simmons roped a two-out triple with two runners on and came into score on a throwing error.
The three-run swing didn’t cause the Rockets to lose faith though and in the bottom of the fourth, Ogle led off by being hit by a pitch. He then took matters into his own hands by stealing second and third. Then when the Cardinals threw behind him at third, Ogle broke for home and scored on a nifty slide to avoid a tag.
“I’ve been batting Parker at five,” Sunderman said. “On any other team, he’d be a leadoff or two hitter, but I bat him five because when he gets on he helps the lower part of our order with the pressure he puts on the pitcher. … He got to third and I told him that if he got the chance to take it and he took home.”
The Rockets got another run on a wild pitch and climbed back within 4-3.
West Nodaway senior Cody Galyan came in to pitch the fourth inning, but after catching the first three frames, his control was lacking early. Galyan walked the first two Cardinals he faced and the lead runner came around to score to give the Cardinals a 5-3 lead.
“He kind of struggled when he first got in there, but he buckled down and got it going, Sunderman said.
The pitching staffs settled in from there with Galyan holding the Cardinals there, but Simmons matching him. The Rockets were dealt a blow in the bottom of the fifth when Ogle was hit by a pitch for the second time in the game.
Ogle injured his arm on the play and was forced to exit the game. Simmons, who reached his pitch limit with the delivery, immediately ran to first and apologized to Ogle and the two shared a brief hug.
With Galyan on the mound and Ogle sidelined, that meant the Rockets were out of catchers with any varsity experience. Sunderman decided to simply put his best player behind the plate and trust that Koch could figure it out.
The junior moved from third base to home plate and squatted down to receive a pitch for the first time since little league.
“I haven’t caught at all in high school, but when I was in little league I caught all the time so I was like, ‘Coach, I can play catcher for you,’” Koch said. “My first thought when coach said I was catching was that this is either going to go really good or really bad. 50/50, so I was a little nervous.”
Galyan and Koch were able to work through a scoreless top of the sixth and the Rockets went to the bottom of the sixth down 5-3.
With the 7-8-9 hitters due up, West Nodaway needed to find a way to get some runners on base and turn the lineup over. Jacob Flint and Gabe Goff did just that as Flint was hit by a pitch and Goff reached on an error.
With No. 9 hitter Dylan Carden up, a ball in the dirt came up and hit catcher Levi Linville in the groin. The Cardinal backstop was forced to leave the game and both teams were without their usual catchers. Koch’s worst fears for himself came to fruition for the Cardinals instead. Despite two strikeouts, a pair of passed balls allowed Flint and Goff to score.
After a two-out walk by Eli Sanders, Koch came through again with a triple to give his team the lead. He then scored on another passed ball.
Galyan allowed two runners to reach to begin the seventh and one scored, but with Simmons on deck he buckled down to strikeout Linville’s replacement and advance the Rockets into the semifinals.
“Their best player was on deck and Cody buckled down and got the out we needed,” Sunderman said.
The Rockets (8-7) will now get top-seeded St. Joseph Christian on Monday.