AVOCA, Iowa — It tends to take Red Oak’s Asher Hinshaw a little while to get settled on the mound, but he knows by now not to let that get to him.
The first four pitches of his first postseason game were off the mark on Saturday evening. But the vast majority of his next 74 were right where he wanted them to be.
After the leadoff walk, the junior proceeded to lead the Tigers to 4-0 shutout victory in a Class 2-A first-round district win over Missouri Valley at Avoca Saturday evening. Hinshaw allowed two hits and struck out seven in seven innings.
Oh, and he never walked another batter.
“I just tried to get on top early,” Hinshaw said. “Obviously, that didn’t happen with the first batter, but as a pitcher, you’ve kind of got to get that out of your head and just roll with the punches.”
Hinshaw and his teammates did everything in their power to evade Missouri Valley’s blows, only allowing the Big Reds to reach second base on one occasion.
Dawson Leapley recorded his team’s second hit of the game in the fifth inning and advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Riley Fichter. Then, Hinshaw retired the next nine to earn the Tigers’ first district win in eight years.
“We have just seen improvement, improvement, improvement every year,” said third-year Red Oak coach Mark Erickson said. “And I think that’s what you’re seeing tonight.”
With the win, the Tigers earned a crack at top-seeded and second-ranked Treynor in the regional semifinals on Tuesday at 7 p.m. The last time the two teams met, the Cardinals outscored the Tigers 6-2 in the final three innings and went on to an 11-6 win in early June.
But Saturday’s result was a testament to the unpredictable nature of baseball on any given night. The last time Red Oak saw Missouri Valley, the Big Reds ripped off a 19-3 rout in four innings.
“It was probably one of our worst days as a team and one of our worst games,” Erickson said. “But we’ve talked about that quite a bit, and I think our play over the last week has gotten better and better, even if the wins haven’t racked up.
“The players see the improvement, and we knew we could play with them.”
While Red Oak has grown over the course of the past few years, its standout on the mound has only been around for the past year. Hinshaw, who entered with a 2.10 ERA in 36 2/3 innings scattered across five starts and 13 relief appearances, moved from Louisville, Kentucky, to Red Oak last summer after his Nebraska-born dad decided to retire to southwest Iowa.
“We decided it was a good time for a change of scenery,” Hinshaw said. “Decided to move up here to Iowa, just to have a good time.”
“We’re glad he made that decision,” Erickson added with a laugh.
Hinshaw’s counterpart, Missouri Valley senior pitcher Matt McDermott, was solid over the course of the night — allowing two earned runs on seven hits and two walks in six innings — but he fell behind early.
With two outs and one on in the first inning, the Tigers scored on an overthrow to first, and an RBI single by Hinshaw drove in a second run. In the sixth, Cole Carlson delivered an RBI single to drive in Carlos Guerra’s leadoff triple, and an inning later, Red Oak took advantage of another Missouri Valley error and scored on an unearned run.
“Baseball is a different game; the best team doesn’t always win,” Missouri Valley coach Rod Unger said. “I thought we had a really good chance to beat these guys today, but we just didn’t get any breaks, and when we hit the ball, we hit it right at them.”
The Big Reds conclude Rod Unger’s last campaign at the helm of the program with a 16-14 record. Unger coached baseball at Missouri Valley for 42 years and won over 450 games.
“This is it,” he said. “I’m going to watch my grandson play, and he’s going to turn 12 and I’m going to miss a lot of that stuff, and I’m going to miss this, too.
“I’ve had some real good kids, and the neatest thing about coaching is the kids I coached 27, 28, 30 years ago, they come back and talk to me at about baseball and everything else — that’s what it’s all about.”
Red Oak (7-20) ……………. 200 001 1 — 4 7 1
Missouri Valley (16-14) …. 000 000 0 — 0 2 2
3B: RO, Carlos Guerra
Shenandoah prevails in 11 innings
As the sun went down and the pitch count racked up for both teams, a pitchers’ duel turned into an unforgettable baseball marathon.
Shenandoah eventually won it, 1-0, but well before the run, it was clear that the fans at AHSTW’s diamond were witnessing a pair of pitching masterpieces.
AHSTW’s Anthony Cordes threw nine scoreless innings, allowing just one hit and one walk and striking out nine. Shenandoah’s Ryan Ruzek threw 7 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing six hits and fanning seven.
And when the pitch count rule forced them to hand the ball off to RJ Harris and Kyle Owens, respectively, the scoreless frames continued to pile up. Both teams had their opportunities, but, whether it was due to a timely misstep, a clutch defensive stand or an unhittable pitch, neither could scratch a run across.
In the top of 11th, Shenandoah finally put a run on the board when Cole Nebel singled up the middle to score Devon Perkins. Perkins set up the potential game-winning RBI by drawing a walk, stealing second and advancing to third on a groundout.
AHSTW reached on an error in the bottom half, but Nebel, the catcher who had two of the team’s three hits, came up with a diving catch in foul ground on a bunt attempt and Owens got a strikeout, which led to a thrilling final play.
AHSTW’s Sam Porter ripped a double into the left field corner and Preslyn Grobe went for the run. Perkins, Shenandoah’s left fielder, rifled it to the cutoff man, who found Nebel for a play at the plate. It was an easy call.
After 11 exhilarating innings, Shenandoah could finally breathe. They’ll take on Clarinda in the semifinals on Tuesday at 5 p.m.
Shenandoah (7-18) …….. 000 000 000 1 — 1 3 3
AHSTW (15-9) ……………. 000 000 000 0 — 0 8 3
W: Kyle Owens. L: RJ Harris. 2B: Shenandoah, Sam Porter.