WILTON — Tyler Howe was one of the best players in Northeast High School baseball history. But, the former NCAA Division I and minor league player never experienced the joy of winning a district baseball title.
In his first year back as head coach of the Rebels, his players showed him how good it feels.
“It’s a lot of fun to be a part of,” he said.
“I’m on top of the world right now,” Northeast senior Cole Dickey said after pitching his second consecutive complete game in the postseason, a 3-1 victory against host Wilton on Saturday that gave the Rebels the Class 2A District 10 championship. “It’s a great feeling.”
The victory set up a 7 p.m. matchup Tuesday against Mount Vernon in Solon in the Substate 5 final for a berth in the Iowa state tournament.
“Obviously our goals keep going, but this is the first ever district title in school history and shows how hard these guys have worked for quite a few months now,” Howe said. “They just want to work and get better, and it’s paying off on the field.”
So did his decision to put Dickey back on the mound after he blanked Durant-Bennett for six innings last Tuesday before holding on for a 5-4 win.
“I felt good,” Dickey said. “I was just happy coach had confidence in me and sent me back out again.”
Dickey and Howe both said the pitcher was even stronger against Wilton. He limited the Beavers (28-10) to three hits and one run, walking one batter and striking out six in a matchup with Wilton ace Cole Crawford. Crawford entered with a 12-1 record and 0.69 ERA, numbers similar to Durant’s Justin Shaffer (12-1, 0.49), whom the Rebels tagged for three runs Tuesday.
“We’ve faced two of the most premier pitchers in the state of Iowa the last two games,” Howe said. “It’s two very impressive victories, and hopefully that will help us carry on to the next step.”
Crawford threw well, too. Coming off a three-hit, 5-1 win against North Cedar in the semifinals, he allowed just two hits to Northeast. But the Rebels combined the long ball with small ball to bunch together three runs in the bottom of the fourth inning.
First came the long ball. Tevin Stoecker led off the fourth with a high drive to right-center field.
“I didn’t think I got it out, but the ball kept going, then I saw the umpire give the home run signal and I was all smiles,” Stoecker said. “It feels good. It got our team going. It was just big. It got us rolling.”
It was just the sixth home run of the year for the Rebels, and Stoecker’s fourth.
“It’s all timing,” he said. “Whenever we need one somebody will step up, and tonight just happened to be me.”
Dickey was on deck when Stoecker connected, and nobody appreciated the run more than he did.
“That was a huge confidence boost for me,” Dickey said. “I was just in shock there. It gave me tons and tons of confidence. That one run — then as you could tell it just added on for everyone else. The rest of the team just kind of fed off it and we added a couple more that inning.”
Dickey followed with a walk, then it was time for small ball to pay off as it did Tuesday, when three consecutive bunts led to the three runs against Shaffer.
“Put the pressure on teams and good things happen,” Howe said.
Michael Hartung laid down a bunt trying to advance courtesy runner Jarret Sterk to second base, but Sterk got much farther than that. Wilton catcher Todd Carter pounced on the bunt but threw low to first base. As the ball skipped past and down the line, Sterk raced home and Hartung made it to second base. Hartung took third on a wild pitch and scored the third run on Ketzalli Dondiego’s groundout to second base.
“I was on top of the world then,” Dickey said. “With that lead, I felt like we could pull through again.”
The way he was pitching, that wasn’t much of a problem. Dickey (7-3) retired the side in order three times and didn’t allow a runner past second over the first five innings. Striking out the first two batters in the game certainly didn’t hurt.
“That brought my confidence way up,” he said. “I knew the other team had a great pitcher, so I had to come out and play big today. Our guys made great plays on defense all night, and we pulled through.”
The Beavers finally broke through in the top of the sixth. Dickey hit leadoff batter Seth Kaufmann with a pitch, and his next pitch was in the dirt, allowing Kaufmann to take second. When Carter followed with an RBI single to right-center, Wilton was within 3-1 and had the heart of its order coming to the plate.
But, Dickey came through with two of his biggest pitches of the night.
First, he got Crawford — Wilton’s top hitter with a .451 average and six home runs — to foul out to catcher Zach Scott on a 3-2 pitch. The count also went full to the next batter — Austin Croson (.430, team-high 41 RBIs) — but Dickey caught him looking at strike three on a knee-buckling pitch on the inside corner.
An error on Stoecker, the shortstop, kept the inning going and put runners on the corners, but the Rebels got out of trouble when Stoecker charged a slow roller by Trey Harris, threw off-balance from the infield grass and delivered a strike to Dondiego at first for the third out.
“I just thought I needed to do it for Cole,” Stoecker said. “He pitched one hell of a game. Having that error, I thought I’d better make up for it. It’s a little nerve-wracking, but I felt good having Cole on the mound.”
The Rebels couldn’t wait to get Dickey out there for the seventh, either, as Crawford struck out the side on 11 pitches in the bottom of the sixth.
“We just wanted to get out there and end it,” Stoecker said.
After giving up a leadoff double, Dickey did just that, retiring the final three batters to set up the meeting with Mount Vernon (25-14), which beat Iowa City Regina 1-0 on Saturday.
Howe said he wasn’t sure if Dickey could make a third start in seven days on Tuesday but that he was confident in whichever pitcher he tabbed.
Now that he’s won a district title there might be no stopping Howe and his team.
NORTHEAST 3, WILTON 1
Wilton 000 001 0 — 1 3 2
Northeast 000 300 x — 3 2 1
Cole Crawford (L 12-2, 6 ip, 2 h, 3 r, 2 er, 3 bb, 9 so, 1 wp) and Todd Carter; Cole Dickey (W 7-3, 7 ip, 3 h, 1 r, 1 er, 1 bb, 6 so, 2 hbp, 1 wp) and Zach Scott. Multiple hits — Wilton (Tanner Poor 2). 2B — Wilton (Poor). HR — Northeast (Tevin Stoecker). RBIs — Wilton (Carter); Northeast (Stoecker, Ketzalli Dondiego).
More photos online To see more photos from Saturday's Northeast vs. Wilton baseball game, please check out the photo gallery at Clintonherald.smugmug.com.