Comets start fast, cruise past Kuemper Catholic in 2A semis

DES MOINES – When it came time to deliver on the big stage, North Polk junior pitcher Cole Jackson was on the money as the Comets took on Kuemper Catholic in the Class 2A semifinals at the state baseball tournament Aug. 1 at Principal Park.

Jackson entered the Comets’ Class 2A state semifinal game with Kuemper Catholic needing a boost of confidence after a shaky outing in the team’s 2A district title win over West Marshall. With an extended 12-day layoff since the West Marshall game, Jackson – also the school’s quarterback in football – rededicated himself and came up huge against Kuemper Catholic, leading his team to a 6-2 victory and a berth in the state title game for the second-straight season.

"Sunday night football was probably not a good idea, but coach and I talked that out, got it settled and got my arm rested back up," Jackson said. It was tired, but I got it done tonight and that’s all that matters."

Jackson threw all seven innings against Kuemper Catholic and he allowed two earned runs on just four hits with six strikeouts and five walks. Jackson got into some trouble a couple times early, but thanks to an early Comet scoring spurt, he always had a lead to work with.

After needing 13 innings to score two runs in its state quarterfinal win over Albia, North Polk plated three runs in the top of the first against Kuemper Catholic. Jacob Hadaway hit a big RBI single for North Polk and Brandon Cory and Wyatt Houge each drove in a run off a Knight defensive miscue.

"A lot of our guys got seven at bats the other night and I thought tonight we were more relaxed," North Polk head coach Dave Middleton said. "That makes all the difference in the world."

In the bottom of the first, Kuemper Catholic posed a serious threat to counter North Polk’s big start. Jackson gave up a single and two walks in the first three batters he faced.

But after allowing the Knights to load the bases, Jackson began to calm down. He gave up a sacrifice fly to allow Kuemper Catholic’s Bryce Wessels to score with one out, but that’s all the damage that was done as the Comet pitcher forced Alex Drees to line out, ending the inning.

Neither team scored in the second inning. But the top of the third saw North Polk get things going again.

Hadaway reached on a dropped third strike and Wyatt Houge sacrificed him over to second to start off the Comet half of the third. Grant Lang followed with a single to put runners on the corners.

Another Kuemper Catholic error resulted in North Polk’s first run of the third as courtesy runner Matt Cox stole second and a bad throw by the Knights allowed Hadaway to trot home. Cox went to third on the play and he scored on a sacrifice fly from Clay Cory.

Kuemper Catholic came back with a run in the bottom of the third. Wessels hit a leadoff single and eventually scored on a two-out single by Hilgenberg. Hilgenberg’s hit put runners on first and second for the Knights, but Jackson forced Drees to foul out to Brandon Cory outside the first base line to end the inning with the Comets up 5-2.

In the top of the fourth North Polk put one more insurance run on the board. Grant Schiltz singled, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt, stole third and scored on another big hit from Hadaway.

With a four-run cushion, Jackson hit another gear on the mound. He gave up only one hit and two walks, struck out four and allowed a Knight base runner to get into scoring position only once over the final four innings.

"I didn’t have a favorite pitch," Jackson said. "The curveball was slipping a little bit, but (pitching) coach (Wyatt Zoske) had confidence in me. He was calling great pitches and I had to do it for him."

Jackson said he also received some extra motivation from a playoff loss to Kuemper Catholic in football last fall.

"They sent us out and I had to get my payback," Jackson said. "We got it done."

North Polk finished with seven hits on offense. Normally known for his pitching exploits, Hadaway followed up a two-hit night against Albia by going 3-for-4 with a run and two RBI versus Kuemper Catholic.

"I’m just going to the plate relaxed and doing what I’ve been doing in practice," Hadaway said. "It’s working."

Schiltz, Greene, Lang and Clay Cory each had one hit for the Comets. Schiltz scored twice, Greene crossed the plate once and Clay drove in a run.

Brandon Cory added one run and RBI apiece, Houge knocked in one run and Cox scored once for the Comets, who improved to 31-4.

Kuemper Catholic ended the season at 29-7. Adam Schleisman took the loss after allowing six runs – five earned – on five hits with five strikeouts and three walks in 4 1/3 innings.

Chris Halbur threw the other 2 2/3 innings for the Knights and he gave up no runs on two hits with two strikeouts and no walks.

Wessels went 2-for-3 with two runs and Kolby Hilgenberg was 2-for-2 with both RBI for the Knights.

North Polk 6, Kuemper Catholic 2

NP 302 100 0 – 6 7 0

KC 101 000 0 – 2 4 3

NP: Cole Jackson and Grant Lang

KC: Adam Schleisman, Chris Halbur (5) and Alex Drees

WP: Jackson

LP: Schleisman

2B: NP – Clay Cory