Relaxed approach key for Iowa Western
If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs …
You’re a veteran coach, and you’ve got a shot in the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series.
As his players were celebrating Iseha Conklin’s two-run home run in the ninth inning Monday, Iowa Western Community College coach Marc Rardin was sprinting to the bullpen, where his first baseman, Keaton Steele, was warming up.
“It is a different game here,” Rardin said after Steele did his job, shutting down Western Nevada College on 15 pitches in the bottom of the ninth for a 6-4 victory in an elimination game.
“As much as you try to tell the kids it’s the same game, there are different surroundings. They’ve got to get used to that. I’ve already become used to that and elimination games.
“I can handle things, my blood pressure is intact for those situations. I hope I can help our team that way with our experience.”
For Steele, a sophomore right-hander, it was time to take a deep breath.
“After Iseha hit the home run, Coach Rardin comes running down and says, ‘Hey, get hot, get hot, you’re going in.’ After that, everybody just told me to relax.”
Down two, Western Nevada gave itself a chance when Bobby Pappin reached on an error.
But Steele threw three strikes to Neil Lawhorn, two more to Chris Woolley before he hit a fly ball to right field, and Taylor Smart took a called third strike to keep the top-ranked Reivers (59-6) in the tournament.
“All we’re told is to throw strikes,” said Steele, who entered the game with an 8.38 ERA in nine games. “If they put it in play, they hit you around a little bit, hats off to them. That’s what Western Nevada did today.
“We were throwing strikes, their guy was throwing strikes, we’re going to hit him around, too, and hopefully at the end of the game we’re up on the scoreboard.”
Rardin said the high ERA isn’t truly what Steele means to the Reivers.
“That was early on when he was injured,” Rardin said. “That’s totally, absolutely deceiving, as you can see how he threw here. And that’s why some of those coaches (scouting) were here today or have been here.
“He’s one of the guys that hasn’t signed yet with a four-year school, so he’s gonna be signing somewhere. People can keep looking at that (ERA) all they want when they play us, but he’s a different guy nowadays.”
Iowa Western starter Jake Thompson was confident Steele would earn the save, his second of the season, and allow him to run his pitching record to 11-1.
“He started a few games the very, very beginning of the season,” Thompson said. “He’s been coming in in relief situations like that as a closer, and he’s been lights-out since then. He can throw hard and has a sharp slider. That’s his big thing, he has a sharp slider.”
Steele, who started at first base and scored one run Monday, warmed up in the seventh as the Reivers were hitting.
And, like any good closer, he was ready when he got the call.
“I wanted the ball,” he said. “I wanted it in the first inning.”