The Iola Indians have been on a losing skid of late and those struggles hit an all-time high on Saturday afternoon when Iola dropped a pool-play game against Neosho County in the Iola Tournament.
Before playing Neosho County, the Indians were able to beat Yates Center 10-0 in four innings on Friday night with Ethan Tavarez and Nate Berry combining for the shutout. Daylon Splane led the offense with two hits and a pair of RBIs.
The Indians then faced Neosho County in a game they hoped would end in similar fashion, but Neosho County had other ideas.
Neosho County — who had suffered two lopsided losses in each of their irteams previous two meetings this season — pulled off the upset with a 9-7 victory.
Tavarez led the offense against Neosho County with two hits and a walk.
The loss gave Iola their seventh in the past eight games and the team appeared to be heading for a crisis in confidence.
The Indians needed to find a way to get a win and restore their swagger. Luckily for them, they didn’t have to wait long for that opportunity and they had the right guy on the mound to remedy the situation.
Derek Bycroft took the hill against the Shawnee Strike Zone in the Indians’ second game of the day.
“We didn’t play very well at all (Saturday) afternoon and we really wanted to have a good performance (Saturday night) against a pretty good team,” Bycroft said.
Bycroft dazzled with a complete game in the 9-5 victory.
“I really took my time getting warmed up today and I had my curveball working all game until the last two innings,” Bycroft said. “Having my curveball working really helped my whole performance and it really kept the hitters off balance. It made them late on my fastball.”
Strike Zone scored two runs in the first inning off of Bycroft, but after that Bycroft put up shutout innings in the second, third, fourth and fifth innings to allow the Indians to rally.
Iola began that rally in the second inning with two runs on a two-run, two-out single by Berry.
The Indians took the lead in the fourth inning with four runs to take a 6-2 advantage.
Kane Rogers began the scoring in the inning with a two-run double. A bunt single by shortstop Ben Cooper gave the team its sixth run and cap the inning.
Berry and Tavarez each picked up an RBI in the fifth to build the lead to 8-2.
Shawnee attempted to rally with three runs in the sixth, but Bycroft was able to finish the game.
Bycroft finished the game with four earned runs allowed and nine strikeouts on 110 pitches.
“I really wanted to throw a complete game, because I’m going to be gone (Sunday),” Bycroft said. “I always want to throw a complete game though. If I start, I want to finish. That is my mentality.”
Every member of the Indian batting order had at least one hit with Isaac Vink, Lance Daniels, Cal Leonard and Berry each having a pair of hits.
The win gave Iola a 2-1 record in pool-play and they advanced to bracket-play as the No. 3 seed and earned a matchup with none other than No. 2 seeded Neosho County.
The Indians were able to extract their revenge with a 11-5 victory.
“Our boys were not very happy about losing that game, so getting the chance to play them again and putting it on them pretty good felt good,” Iola coach Rick Vink said.
After falling behind 4-3 going into the fourth inning, Iola posted three runs in the top of the fourth inning to take the lead.
Neosho County got a run back in the bottom of the fourth, but Iola was able to but the game away with one run in the fifth, three in the sixth and one more in the seventh.
Cal Leonard picked up the save by coming in for Vink in the sixth and throwing two, no-hit, shutout frames.
Berry and Leonard each had two hits to lead the Iola offense and Vink surrendered just one earned run in his five innings on five hits with three walks and two strikeouts.
That matched Iola up with top-seeded Chanute in the championship game.
With Bycroft, Tavarez, Kane Rogers and Blake Ashmore gone for a church youth group trip — which left Sunday — the Indians were very short of pitchers.
“We didn’t have much pitching left, but what we had pieced it together pretty good,” Vink said.
Leonard got the start despite throwing earlier in the day and pitching the day before in the loss to Neosho County too.
Leonard battled through three innings and allowed just three runs before handing the ball off to Darius Greenawalt.
Greenawalt pitched a shutout fourth, but trouble struck in the fifth and Chanute for four runs to extend the lead to 6-0.
The Indians showed the resilience which had flashed earlier in the two-straight wins to reach the championship.
Six-straight Indians reached base to begin the sixth inning and by the time the inning was over, Iola had fought back within 6-4.
Cooper, who had thrown 46 pitches on Saturday, was on in relief of Greenawalt in the seventh and two unearned runs came around to score to push the margin to 8-4.
That is where the game ended with Chanute winning the tournament.
“It is funny with our guys, if we just come out and play free, we are a pretty good ball team,” Vink said. “We did that today, but we had five or six balls that were just hit right at guys and could have changed the game.”
The Indians will travel to Yates Center on Wednesday for a doubleheader at 6 p.m.