One loss. Evidently that’s what it took to light a fire under Iola American Legion Post 15’s AA Indians.
After losing their first game at last week’s 2011 Kansas American Legion AA Zone 3 Baseball Tournament, the Indians stayed as hot as the sweltering July weather they had to play in.
Six wins is what it was going to take to get Iola the Zone 3 championship and a berth in the 2011 Kansas American Legion AA State Baseball Tournament.
“We were really down on ourselves after losing to Burlington on Tuesday,” said Ryan Latta, who is in his fourth year of Iola AA baseball. “But Sherman (assistant coach Sherman Ashmore) got us up again. We had a piece of paper with six boxes on it and marked one off as we won a game.”
Garnett. Check. Fort Scott. Check. Osawatomie. Check. Burlington. Check. Baxter Springs. Check. Check.
Iola worked its way through the zone tournament’s losers bracket to the championship game. The Indians were to face Baxter Springs Sunday at Garnett, which was hosting the tournament, but a funny thing happened.
It rained more in Garnett Saturday night and the field was too wet. The zone tournament championship was moved to Iola. The Indians took on Baxter Springs on their home field at Allen County Community College Sunday afternoon, needing two wins to claim the Zone 3 championship.
They did it. Iola run-ruled top-seeded Baxter Springs 8-0 and 10-1 in back-to-back six-inning contests.
“It’s amazing. This was a once in a lifetime experience for us to win six games to win the zone tournament,” Latta said. “Plus to play at home and win it here. We really appreciate the great crowd of fans who came out today to support us.”
Iola (35-12) already knows which team it takes on Wednesday in the opening round of the American Legion AA state tournament. The Indians play Ottawa, the host team.
The last time Iola qualified for the state Legion tournament was in 2007, when it won the Zone 3 tournament and went 2-2 at the state tournament. The Iola Indians took second in the 1990 state AA tournament and won the state AA championship in 1988.
Ethan Ericson, who also is in his fourth year on the Iola AA team, was the winning pitcher in both games Sunday. Ericson limited Baxter Springs to two hits in the 8-0 win in six innings. He issued three walks and hit one batter but recorded 10 strikeouts. Behind him, the Indian defense turned two double plays and committed one error.
Iola scored four runs in the first inning. Levi Ashmore drew a walk and Dalton Smith doubled. Jerrik Sigg smashed a two-run single and Corey Taylor singled. Ryan Latta reached on an error and Drew Walden drove in a run on fielder’s choice.
Jarred Latta and Ashmore had back-to-back walks to start the Iola fourth inning. With two gone, Taylor worked a base-on-balls and Ryan Latta came up with a bases-loaded single to drive in two runs.
In the bottom of the sixth, Sigg reached on a walk followed by Taylor getting on via an error. Ryan Latta’s base hit plated a run. With one gone, Mason Coons was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Clint Heffern’s sacrifice fly to center brought in the final run to close out the game.
That forced a second and deciding championship game. Baxter Springs was the home team in the second contest. It didn’t matter.
Ericson worked three scoreless innings, giving up one hit and one walk with five strikeouts. Ashmore came in to pitch the fourth inning with Iola up 7-0. Baxter Springs scored its one run in the fourth on two hits. Ashmore had a strikeout.
Smith pitched a 1-2-3 fifth inning for Iola and had two strikeouts.
The Indians took advantage of walks to Taylor and R. Latta in the sixth. Walden singled to load the bases. Coons ripped a double to the outfield fence that cleared the bases putting Iola in position to end the game in six innings.
Sigg took over on the mound against Baxter Springs in the bottom of the sixth. He retired the first two batters, then allowed a single by Austin Karnes. Sigg got Drew Bilke to fly out to center field to end the game.
“They became a team in a week after the Burlington loss,” said Mike Taylor, Indians’ head coach. “The squabbling stopped. We had a couple of talks and the kids played team baseball. We beat a very good Baxter Springs team today.”
In the first game Sunday, Ryan Latta had two singles, Ashmore and Smith each hit a double and Sigg, Taylor and Heffern had a single apiece.
In the second game, Iola scored two runs in the first inning on a two-run single by Walden. Heffern drove in two runs on a double in the third after Coons singled in a run and Ashmore’s single brought in a run. Ryan Latta singled in a run in the fourth. Smith and Taylor had singles for the Indians.
Pulling off the run-of-the-table feat was not easy for the Indians. They run-ruled Garnett 11-1 on Wednesday to get it started.
On Friday, Iola had to survive against Fort Scott, winning 8-7. Ashmore was the fourth pitcher in the game for Iola and he came on in the top of the seventh with the tying run on and no outs. The tying run was eliminated when Walden threw out the Fort Scott runner trying to steal second. Ashmore struck out the next two batters.
Iola got up in the game with a five-run first inning highlighted by a two-run home run by Walden. The Indians added two more runs in the third to lead 7-3.
A solo home run by Sigg in the fourth proved to be the winning run. Fort Scott scored single runs in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh innings.
Ericson started and went 2 2/3 innings followed by Coons and R. Latta, each pitching 1 2/3 innings. Iola gave up seven hits and 10 walks in the game.
Ashmore had two singles, Taylor doubled and Smith and J. Latta each singled.
Iola went back to Garnett Saturday afternoon. The Indians rolled past Osawatomie 13-2 in four innings behind the pitching of Smith. Smith allowed four hits, walked one, hit two batters and struck out three.
Iola scored 10 runs in the first inning featuring a two-run double by Coons and a grand slam by Sigg. Iola scored three runs in the fourth as Ryan Latta doubled in a run and Walden’s double brought in two.
Sigg had a single along with the homer. Walden and R. Latta each had a single and a double and Coons had a double. Ashmore and Smith had a single each.
The Indians turned around to face Burlington, the team that beat them 11-6 on Tuesday in the tournament, Saturday night.
It was a nail-bitter with Iola pulling out a 15-13 victory. Burlington took advantage of four Iola errors in the second inning to score seven runs, going up 8-3.
Iola tied it up in the third with five runs — two coming off a double by Ryan Latta and two on a home run by Coons, then with the bases loaded Sigg was hit by a pitch to force in the tying run.
Iola manufactured three runs in the fourth, two more in the fifth and two insurance runs in the sixth to lead 15-10.
Sigg had gone all the way on the mound for Iola but ran into trouble in the seventh. Burlington scored three runs on four singles and a walk.
Ashmore earned a save in relief of Sigg as he got two line-outs, walked the next one to load the bases, then got a ground-out to first to end the game.
Walden cranked out three doubles and a single in the game and Coons hit the home run and a single. Ryan Latta had a single and a double. Ashmore and Smith each had a single.
That set up the games with Baxter Springs for the championship.
“This is awesome,” Sigg said after being dog-piled following the last out.
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