Conklin’s clutch home run helps Iowa Western eliminate Western Nevada
Conklin's clutch home run helps Iowa Western eliminate Western Nevada
Iseha Conklin’s hot bat in the first two games of the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series earned him a promotion Monday and some unexpected nerves.
After batting last in the order, the Iowa Western Community College center fielder was elevated to the leadoff role against Western Nevada College, and his first four at-bats were uncharacteristic of his previous ones in the tournament: flyout, strikeout, groundout, groundout.
But in the top of the ninth inning, with two out and a runner on first base because of a fortuitous deflection of the ball, he returned to Game 1 and 2 form, during which he was 3 for 6 with two doubles and three RBI.
The freshman belted a pitch over the left-field wall for a game-winning, two-run home run as the Reivers triumphed 6-4.
Iowa Western improved to 59-6 and extended its stay in Grand Junction. Western Nevada (48-17) was eliminated from the tournament.
“I’ve been hitting nine all year, and my coach, I guess, had some confidence in me, wanted to put me at one,” Conklin said. “He told me, and then I was kind of like just a little iffy: Gosh, I went to one from batting nine all year. I got up there, and I didn’t feel as comfortable as I felt these last two games.”
Conklin said he was out in front of pitches. His teammates noticed and told him before his final at-bat to sit back and get this hands through on his swing.
“And finally, the guy just threw me a pitch — I don’t even know what pitch it was — and I just put a nice swing on it,” he said.
Conklin knew he hit the ball solid but didn’t know it was out of the park until he rounded first base and saw the ball sail over the leaping left fielder and the wall.
Reivers coach Marc Rardin had no doubt where the ball was going when it left the bat. That’s why he immediately started running to the bullpen to get relief pitcher Keaton Steele ready.
“Guys get into the emotion, and that’s what you want,” he said of the home run. “It’s my job to make sure our next step is ready, and our next step was to make sure Keaton was focused and ready to go in.”
Western Nevada opened the bottom of the ninth with a base runner as Bobby Pappin reached on an error by the third baseman. From there, Steele threw strike after strike, getting 0-2 counts on the next three batters en route to retiring them, two by strikeout, including a called third strike on the game’s final batter.
Iowa Western scored all of its runs with two outs.
Alex Greer belted a solo home run, his 12th of the year, to tie the game 1-1 in the fifth.
In the Reivers’ three-run sixth inning, a wild pitch plated Steven Leonard to tie the game 2-2, and after two walks loaded the bases, Greer hit an infield popup that the first baseman dropped, allowing two runs to score.
“A little bit more Iowa Western baseball,” Rardin said of the production in the clutch. “Guys on base, doing some things, we get lucky, they drop a ball in the infield. But part of that luck is also our effort. That ball’s just a popup between first base and home. Our guy at second could’ve just been jogging — you know what I mean? — but they were already across the plate by the time that ball dropped.”
Western Nevada tied the game 4-4 with two runs in the bottom of the seventh, and after a scoreless eighth, the stage was set for Conklin.
With two out, Tanner Krietemeier pinch hit in the No. 9 spot in the order, previously Conklin’s home. Krietemeier lined the ball to the right side of the mound, and the pitcher’s glove deflected it, forcing the second baseman to change direction and commit an error.
Conklin hit the next pitch out of the park.
“He’s really stepping up,” said Iowa Western pitcher Jake Thompson, who pitched six innings. “He’s been lights out this entire tournament.”