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College baseball: Warriors run past Spartans in home opener

Mar. 8—CENTERVILLE — Southwestern couldn't afford to give the Indian Hills baseball team an inch.

Every chance they got, the Warriors capitalized on opportunities to move runners along the bases on Wednesday. Indian Hills took advantage of seven stolen bases, five Spartan errors, four wild pitches and a pair of passed balls to run away with a 15-2 home-opening win at Pat Daugherty Field.

"They gave us the opportunities and we took them," Indian Hills sophomore Dylan Sayles said after scoring four runs in four trips to the plate. "We pride ourselves on being aggressive on the base paths. That's what we did. We played our game. That's what we try to do every time. We know our game is better than most peoples."

Indian Hills set the tone for the game in the very first inning. Endi Jaquez used his speed to get on base, beating on an infield single to short, before taking second base on a passed ball and stealing third setting up Raul Torres for an RBI groundout that put the Warriors up 1-0 just two batters into the bottom of the opening inning.

"We got the momentum right off the bat and that always helps," Sayles said. "When we get the momentum, it's hard to take it from us. That's one of the things we pride ourselves on."

That early one-run deficit loomed even bigger with the start on the mound by Logan Winkleman. After pitching around a two-out walk in the top of the first, Winkleman retired Southwestern in order over the next two innings finishing with four strikeouts in three scoreless innings of work.

Even when Southwestern did make contact, the Warriors were up to the challenge defensively. Miguel Salazar came up with a diving stop on a ground ball hit by Drew Miller to open the top of the fourth, helping relief pitcher Tomaki Jitsukawa set down the Spartans in order.

"That infield has really been making plays for us this year," Sayles said. "It's basically the same infield we had last year. They've been working really well together. I have a lot of confidence in them."

While Southwestern went through the first four innings without a hit, Indian Hills continued to build on their early lead. Three errors by the Spartans in the second inning, including an unusual miscue by Southwestern catcher Kaiden Rodenburg who used his mask to stop a potential wild pitch, allowed Indian Hills to put another three runs on the scoreboard.

Indian Hills doubled that 4-0 lead in the third, again taking advantage of Spartan mistakes as well as the struggle of Southwestern starting pitcher Christopher Marrero to command his throws. Two walks and a hit batter opened a four-run rally by IHCC with a bloop single by Ciro Benavides driving in the final two runs of the frame, giving the Warriors a commanding 8-0 lead.

"That's textbook Indian Hills baseball," Sayles said. "You don't have to go up to the plate trying to be a hero. You just need to be a team player. If you need to get a ball on the ground on the right side to get a run in, that's what we were trying to do."

Jose Cherena made Southwestern's first hit count in a big way, driving a ball over the fence in left field for a lead-off home run in the fifth as the Spartans got two runs back during the inning, cutting IHCC's lead to 8-2. The Warriors responded in the bottom of the inning, scoring four times while batting around as Sayles, Salazar and Benavides all reached and scored sparking a rally from the bottom of the Indian Hills batting order.

"We joke around in the dugout about how the 6-7-8-9 spots in the line-up is a pretty dangerous spot in our line-up," Salazar said. "We have a plan when we get on base. Every time we see pitchers starting to struggle, we try to take advantage of it."

Indian Hills put their 10th win of the season away in the sixth, scoring three more runs on three hits including RBI singles by Torres and pinch-hitter Jed Kirkpatrick. Kurtis Smith and Lou Levy came on to pitch a pair of scoreless innings in relief for the Warriors, allowing just one combined hit to the Spartans to close out the home-opening win.

"It's always exciting when you win your home opener," Indian Hills baseball coach and Centerville native Daniel Hargrave said. "We had a lot of staff and faculty that came out to watch us. That's really good for the guys to see the support they get from the community and the college. There's some confidence that we're playing with right now, but there's always room to improve. This team addresses that pretty regularly when we're practicing. The fact that we've started out so well always gets everyone in the community excited. They expect us to put a quality product on the field."

Indian Hills (10-3) hosts Southwestern (5-12) again on Saturday as the opening six-game series at Pat Daugherty Field continues with the second meeting between the Warriors and Spartans at 2 p.m. Southwestern will play a doubleheader with Iowa Lakes on Sunday starting at 1 p.m. Iowa Lakes and Indian Hills will close out the series with a doubleheader of their own on Monday, also starting at 1 p.m.

"We want to get back to the national tournament, but more than that, we want to win that national championship," Sayles said. "We know we have the guys to do it. We have the talent. We just need to keep working on playing our game. If we do that, I think we have a pretty good shot."

— Scott Jackson can be reached at sjackson@ottumwacourier.com. Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.