Iola goes 1-1 against baseball powerhouses

Iola High's baseball team took down McPherson, the two-time defending state champions in Class 4A, and took Rock Creek, this year's top-ranked 4A team, to the brink before falling short in a 5-3 loss in a McPherson Tournament Friday.

Sports

April 22, 2024 - 2:16 PM

Iola High's Ashton Hesse bats in a game earlier this season. Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register

MCPHERSON — The gauntlet that is Iola High’s baseball season continued Friday, with the Mustangs taking on two of the top baseball powers in Class 4A.

Iola hit the road to take on two-time defending state champion McPherson.

And after going without a hit over the first four innings, the Mustangs found their groove, erupting for six runs in the top of the sixth, and running away with a 9-1 victory.

That led Iola to Saturday’s championship game in the four-team tournament against Rock Creek, the state’s top-ranked 4A team.

The Mustangs rallied a second time in that matchup, but came up just short in a 5-3 loss.

Nevertheless the split in Friday’s four-team tournament — El Dorado was the other school in the proceedings — gives the Mustangs another look at their potential as the season hits the home stretch with several tough games remaining, starting with a showdown with Parsons at home on Tuesday.

“To battle and battle and battle against those teams until we had a chance to score some runs was big,” Mustang head coach Levi Ashmore said. “I’m proud of how our kids played. Of course, the competitor in me says, dang, look how close we came against Rock Creek, and wishing we could have won.”

IOLA’S Grady Dougherty and McPherson’s Carter Allen were locked in a pitchers’ duel in Friday’s opener. McPherson scratched across a run in the bottom of the third on Allen’s RBI single.

Allen had things well in control, allowing only one baserunner over the first four innings. Iola’s Ben Kerr broke up the no-hit bid with an infield single with one out in the fifth. It became a scoring opportunity when he stole second and Ashton Hesse worked a two-out walk.

But the rally ended without a run after Allen induced a ground ball to end the threat.

Allen wouldn’t be so lucky in the sixth.

Landon Weide started the frame with a single. He promptly stole second and scored on Korbin Cloud’s single. Dougherty aided his own cause with an RBI single to put Iola on top. Walks to Mac Leonard and Kerr loaded the bases for Easton Weseloh, who drove in Iola’s third run with a single. Hesse punched through a two-run single before a sixth run scored on a McPherson fielding error.

Tre Wilson led off the seventh with a walk. He moved up on an error and scored on a passed ball before Nick Bauer capped Iola’s scoring with a two-run single.

That was more than enough for Dougherty, who shut down McPherson’s offense with his complete-game six-hitter. He struck out two. Weide, Cloud, Dougherty, Kerr, Weseloh, Hesse and Bauer had singles.

Ashmore said his hopes entering the game were for Dougherty to pitch at least four innings before turning to the bullpen.

“But he was pitching so well, we didn’t want to take him out.”

Not to be lost in the shuffle was a diving catch by Weseloh in left field to snuff a potential McPherson rally early in the game.

“It was enormous,” Ashmore said. “Our defense played really well.”

ROCK CREEK, which entered its showdown with Iola on an eight-game winning streak, scored single runs in the first and second innings and two in the third to lead, 4-0, before Iola found its offensive footing against Rock Creek starter Daegen Vinduska, one of the top left-handed pitchers in the state.

Weide’s leadoff walk in the fourth — Iola’s first baserunner of the game — sparked a two-run Mustang rally. Cloud followed with a single. A double steal turned into a run after a Rock Creek fielding error brought Weide home. Kerr made it 4-2 with an RBI single.

Bauer led off the fifth with a single, moved up on Weide’s sacrifice bunt and Cloud’s single put runners on first and third. Wilson followed with an RBI double, pulling Allen to within a run.

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