War Eagles’ season ends with hope for next year

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Pitcher and shortstop Caleb Helle was named first team all-conference. (Photo by Bev Hamann)

Brandon Thiese, a pitcher and first baseman for the War Eagles, earned second team honors in the Upper Iowa Conference. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

Catcher Oakley Harbaugh also received second team all-conference recognition. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

Pitcher and center fielder Hazen Loan received honorable mention status. (Photo by Bev Hamann)

Also earning an all-conference honorable mention nod was pitcher and second baseman Drake Ostrander. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register

The Clayton Ridge/Central baseball team took on the Bellevue Comets in the first round of postseason play July 13, losing 8-1.

The War Eagles finished the season with a 4-14 record (3-12 in the Upper Iowa Conference). 

While the team’s offensive MVP, Oakley Harbaugh, opened the game with an RBI, giving the War Eagles a short-lived lead, the Comets answered, scoring eight runs on seven hits. Bellevue also benefited from 11 walks by War Eagle pitchers, who struggled throughout the season to “find their groove,” in the words of head coach Zach Mueller. 

The season, “fell a bit below expectations,” Mueller said. Before the season started, there was optimism the team could finish at least middle of the pack, but poor pitching and inattentive defense hurt those hopes. The pitching woes were attributed to the COVID-19 shutdown, which “laid waste” to all the hard work the pitching staff put in back in February and early March. 

As Mueller put it, “The many weeks of not throwing really had an effect on our pitchers’ ability to throw consistent strikes.” While in-season efforts were made to address this issue, such as “minor tweaks to players’ deliveries,” the lack of bullpen sessions and an overworked staff could not be overcome. 

The team also struggled to find a suitable third baseman. The War Eagles tried four different players at the “hot corner,” and, according to Mueller, “half of our errors were attributed to that position.” 

Additionally, as the pitching struggled, the defense became complacent and “lost its tenacity.”  

While COVID-19 certainly shares some of the blame, some teams in the conference, like South Winneshiek, Kee and MFL MarMac, managed to win games thanks to offseason work.

Mueller stated, “The teams that excelled this summer had brothers and teammates that got together during the shutdown to continue to play catch, pitch and hit.” All of this should motivate a young team that now realizes “the work they have cut out for them in the offseason” if they wish to compete next season.

As for positives, Mueller noted how the offense improved from the prior season, with four players, Drake Ostrander, Caleb Helle, Harbaugh and Brandon Thiese, hitting above .300. 

Several players also won Upper Iowa Conference honors: 

  • First team all-conference - pitcher/shortstop Caleb Helle
  • Second team all-conference - pitcher/first baseman Brandon Thiese and catcher Oakley Harbaugh 
  • Honorable mention all-conference - pitcher/center fielder Hazen Loan and pitcher/second baseman Drake Ostrander. 

Looking toward the future, the entire team is expected to return next season, and the offense is expected to continue improving. The pitching, which had a team ERA of 7.63 and allowed 148 walks, can do better.

Mueller remained confident as the season ended, professing, “the potential is there to be much better. All of our players return next year, so the success of our program going forward resides in how much they are willing to work on their pitching and defense this offseason.” 

He also reminded the team that life isn’t always about the win/loss column, and he is “awfully proud of the young men they are becoming and they do a great job of representing both Central and Clayton Ridge.”

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