It may have been their first state tournament berth but the Glenwood baseball team celebrated like old pro's on Wednesday with the customary dog pile and Gatorade bath for head coach Bret Elam.
After decades of struggle and three straight 20 win seasons with littler post-season success, the Glenwood baseball team is headed to this week's Iowa State Baseball Tournament after a big first inning and another sterling pitching performance from Taylor Kaufman carried the Rams to a 9-1 substate victory over A-D-M at Carroll Stadium in Carroll on Wednesday.
Glenwood, seeded No. 2, opens state tournament play on Tuesday against No. 7 seeded Algona (19-15) at 8 p.m. at Principal Park in Des Moines.
“This was our goal four or five years ago,” said Elam, in his fourth year as the Rams head coach. “We wanted the kids buying into what we're doing. We changed the mentality at Glenwood because not having a conference championship since 1973 we didn't know what to expect when we came in. This just goes to show it doesn't happen over night but if you stay confident and the kids buy into it, this is what you get.”
In a pair of 3-2 district victories this post-season the Glenwood baseball team had amassed five hits and scored six runs. Against A-D-M, the Rams nearly surpassed that offense in the first inning alone, smacking five hits and scoring five runs off sophomore starter Alec Rash.
Kyle Wheeler led off the game by drawing a walk and moved over to second on a Bryan Harless single. A double by Grant Loeffelbein plated Wheeler and Kaufman, the Rams' clean up hitter, then made the score 3-0 with a sharply hit single. Nick Wells then doubled to move Kaufman to third with no outs.
Rash appeared to pitch out of the jam after inducing strikeouts from the next two Ram batters but first baseman Matt Schulz came to the plate and smacked a two RBI single to give Glenwood the early 5-0 lead.
“We were more relaxed,” Elam said of his team's success at the plate. “Just the way we took batting practice, our demeanor on the bus was a littler quieter on Friday and Monday. (Assistant coach) Curt (Kaufman) and I were talking on the bus, 'Geez, are they thinking about this and talking themselves into being nervous?' We didn't see that today.”
The Rams' five runs would be more than enough for Kaufman. The junior lefty, who has now recorded wins in all three Glenwood post-season victories this year, was unhittable through three innings, not allowing a base runner until the bottom of the fourth when a blooper by Chad Pickering appeared to be caught by Ram right fielder Trent Jameson but was ruled a hit. Two batters later, catcher Seth Thompson tripled home Pickering for the Tigers' lone run.
A-D-M would threaten again in the bottom half of the sixth when they loaded the bases on a single by Josh Sampson, a walk and an Ram error. Spencer Brady, the Tiger's No. 5 hitter, than smacked a shot into leftfield but Jameson officially held on this time with a sprinting catch to end the inning and A-D-M's potential rally.
Just before the inning, Elam pulled a dejected Jameson aside following his second strikeout of the game.
“I could tell he was real mad, he struck out looking,” said Elam. “I told him, don't worry about it, to leave it in the dugout and I need you on defense. And thank god he did, because he made some nice plays out there.”
A-D-M would get a hit – just their fourth of the game – in the seventh but never threaten.
Kaufman tossed a complete-game, striking out eight and walking one to improve to 10-0 on the season. He also went 2-for-3 at the plate with three RBIs.
Wheeler was 3-for-4 on the night and scored two runs. Wells and Harless each added two hits.
“If Taylor's arm isn't ready tonight, and he doesn't start, who knows,” said Elam. “It's a testament to him and everybody on this roster that they were ready to go.”
For weeks, Elam said, he's preached to his team about not letting emotions or butterflies get to them in the post-season. He thinks that paid off on Wednesday.
“To make a long story short, we came out and we were ready to play today,” said Elam. “Maybe the last year, two years ago, three years ago, maybe we weren't ready to take the next step. And today I really think we were.”
Kaufman said the state tournament has been a dream since he was a little leaguer.
“This feels great,” he said. “Taking Glenwood baseball where its never been before. We're officially a state qualifying team now. I'm really proud to be a part of that.”
Elam already informed Kaufman he will start the Rams' first round game against Algona.
“I have six days to get ready. I will definitely be doing some running to recuperate,” he said.