---- — ALTAMONT — South Central has held a share of the National Trail Conference regular season title for the last two years, and advanced to last year’s championship before falling to St. Anthony.
History had a chance to repeat itself Saturday in Altamont, but the second-seeded Cougars prevailed behind some early offense and a strong pitching performance by Tyler Ross in a 3-2 win over fourth-seeded St. Anthony Saturday.
The Cougars’ first four batters reached in the game and three scored. Those would be the only three, but they would be enough as Ross held the Bulldogs at bay all afternoon.
“I’m happy for the seniors, I’m happy for Tyler, who has struggled at times,” said South Central coach Curt Jones. “Today, he stepped up and he didn’t really have that inning that seems to bite him.”
St. Anthony had one last chance late in the game, cutting a 3-1 lead to 3-2 in the sixth on an Alex Hoelscher RBI single. The Bulldogs loaded up the bases with two outs on a bloop single by Scott Rentfrow and a walk by Zach Gardewine.
With speedy Jacob Lorenz at the plate, Jones visited his southpaw on the mound. The mound visit paid off as Ross got Lorenz to lift a fly ball to center to Dre Hill for the final out of the inning.
Ross would go on to get the heart of the Bulldog order in the seventh 1-2-3, clinching the title, South Central’s first NTC tournament championship since joining the conference in 2012 from the Midland Trail Conference.
“He said ‘I need to calm down,’”Jones said of the mound visit. “I used my last trip, and we’re here to calm down. He did.”
St. Anthony grabbed a run in the first inning when Lorenz was hit by a pitch and came around to score on a two-out RBI single by Braden Puckett.
The Cougars got going early in response. Gavin Ratermann led off with a single, and advanced to third on a ground-rule double by Devin Smith. Kyle Bray rapped a single in the infield that hit the rip and took a weird hop into the outfield, scoring Ratermann. Noah Powless drove in a run with an RBI single, and Brett Harmeier worked a two-out, bases-loaded walk to make it 3-1 heading to the second.
All three runs came off Scott Rentfrow, who was pulled from the mound after the first inning. Alex Hoelscher came in to pitch and blanked the Cougars for five innings.
“We talked all week, and Scotty’s been one of our most consistent pitchers,” said St. Anthony coach Kenny Koenig. “He led us through a few big games this year, we thought we’ll give him the start. They hit him well.”
St. Anthony would only put two men in scoring position between the second and fifth, with an Austin Bushur double and Lorenz reaching third with an infield single and a pair of stolen bases.
Still, like the rest of the game, Ross came up big when necessary, especially with Lorenz on third in the fifth inning, striking out Neil Williams and Bushur to end the frame.
“He texted me this morning, saying ‘I want to play. I want this,’” Jones said.
After five first inning hits, South Central mustered just three off Hoelscher over the game’s final five innings, with no runner advancing past second base.
“We decided to get Hoelscher in there, and he threw real well,” Koenig said. “I’m glad to see him throw well.”
Bushur was 2-for-4 with a double, Lorenz was 1-for-3 with a run, while Hoelscher and Puckett each went 1-for-3 with an RBI. Hoelscher also tossed five shutout innings with three hits, one walk and six strikeouts.
Rentfrow gave up five hits, three runs and one walk while striking out two.
St. Anthony takes second in the conference after finishing the regular season 3-4 in the NTC, with a lot of new faces on the field and in the dugout as well.
“We’re confident going into the spring,” Koenig said. “It was one of those years where we lost some games we shouldn’t have lost. It’s tough in the fall.
“As a four seed, it’s nice to get second place, but we felt we could have won it.”
Ross gave up seven hits in seven innings, walked just one and struck out seven. Bray was 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run, Powless was 1-for-3 with an RBI, Smith was 2-for-3 with a double and a run and Harmeier was 1-for-1 with an RBI and two walks.
The Cougars advanced to Super Sectionals before falling to Windsor/Stew-Stras in the spring, and the conference championship can’t hurt their chances in the fall.
“It’s a game of inches, a game like this, overall, I thought it was a really good game. We were lucky enough to get that one extra run,” Jones said. “These teams were always on our schedule. Now when we play them, it counts. It’s always gratifying to win a conference championship, I can’t deny that.”
St. Anthony 100 001 0 2 7 2
South Central 300 000 X 3 8 1
WP – Ross (7 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 7 K, 1 BB) LP – Rentfrow (1 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 K, 1 BB)
St. Anthony: Lorenz (1-3, R, 2 SB); Bushur (2-4, 2B); Dasenbrock (1-4, R); Brad. Puckett (1-3, RBI); Hoelscher (1-3 RBI); Gurtner (1-3); Rentfrow (1-3)
South Central: Ratermann (1-4, R); Smith (2-3, 2B, R); Bray (2-3, RBI, R); Powless (1-4, RBI; Hill (1-3); Harmeier (1-1, RBI, 2 BB)
Blue Devils take third
Altamont found itself in its second straight nine-inning game Saturday, and the result was the same, with their opponent grabbing three runs in the ninth to best the Indians.
Windsor/Stew-Stras scored three runs in the top of the ninth inning, led by a two-run double by Hayden Cole.
Both W/SS’s Mark Jones and Altamont’s Garrett Ziegler pitched complete games, with Jones walking seven and striking out just one, but limiting the damage Altamont dealt out. Ziegler allowed 11 hits and six earned runs, striking out seven in the loss.
Trevor Cornett put Altamont on the board in the first inning, driving in two runs. Brady Winn was 3-for-4 with a double and an RBI.
The Indians led 2-0 early, but fell behind 3-2 after the the fourth inning. Altamont tied it up in the bottom of the sixth inning to force extras, where the Blue Devils would pull away.
Nick Miller was 2-for-3 with two runs for Altamont. Winn went 3-for-4 on the day.
Cole finished the day 1-for-3 with the two-run double, two runs and a steal. Bryce Bugger was 3-for-4 and Brandon Helmuth was 2-for-5 with an RBI.
The Blue Devils take third by winning the consolation game. Altamont takes fourth in the tournament after sharing the regular-season championship with a 6-1 conference mark.
W/SS 002 100 003 6 11 3
Altamont 200 010 000 3 8 2
WP – Jones (9 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 K, 7 BB) LP – Ziegler (9 IP, 11 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 7 K, 5 BB)
W/SS: Allen (1-4, 2 R, 2 SB); Helmuth (2-5, RBI); Cole (1-3, 2B, 2 RBI, 2 R, SB); Bugger (3-5); Kramer (2-4, RBI, SB); Deremiah (1-5, RBI); Jones (1-4, SB)
Altamont: N. Miller (2-3, 2 R, 2 BB); Cornett (1-4, 2 RBI); Winn (3-4, 2B, RBI); C. Miller (1-5); Ricketts (1-3