DES MOINES — State titles are earned, not given. And Newman Catholic had to earn every bit of this one.
The Knights shook off a slow start and were dominant to close out their sixth state title in school history with an 8-3 win over Martensdale-St. Marys in Saturday’s Class 1A championship game. Only the dogpile that ensued after the final out — double play — could have made it any sweeter.
“It’s the greatest feeling in the world,” Newman sophomore Evan Paulus said. “I couldn’t imagine anything being better right now.”
The Knights have had close title victories in the past and they’ve done it via blowout, but having to work as hard as they did Saturday, and the payoff for doing so, is something that’ll stick with this group forever.
Behind starter Kevin Duncan, the Blue Devils had the Knights on their heels to open.
Martensdale-St. Marys was first on the scoreboard when it plated a pair of runs in the top of the second inning on a two-run single by No. 8 hitter Esa Johanson that scored Cole Cassady and Kolton Fisk.
In the top of the fourth, the Blue Devils added another on a delayed steal of home when Fisk sprinted in to score a run on the throw back from the catcher to the pitcher.
“We’re playing a really good team and runs were going to be scarce, so we get a spot there where we saw the catcher being lackadaisical and kind of lobbing the ball back,” Martensdale-St. Marys coach Jon Fitzgerald said. “That’s something we haven’t done all year but I have done in the past and it seemed like no better time with an athlete at third.”
It was then the Newman players buckled down and said that would be enough for the Blue Devils. The only thing they had to do was get something started off Duncan, who had a no-hitter and six strikeouts through three innings.
Newman senior Peyton Scott did just that as he opened up the bottom of the frame with a single. It turned out that was the hit that opened up the floodgates.
“Throughout the year we’ve had so many occasions where we’ve found ourselves in a hole and we always found a way to battle back,” Scott said. “It’s just another bump in the road that we finally got to, and once we started rolling we were never going to stop.”
After Josh Fitzgerald reached on a hit-by-pitch (which was also the end of Duncan’s start), Ben Fitzgerald knocked in Scott on an RBI single, Paulus drove an RBI double that brought around Josh Fitzgerald, and two separate wild pitches scored Ben Fitzgerald and courtesy runner Jace Leiniger to give the Knights the lead. And they weren’t done there.
Newman loaded up the bases shortly after and Josh Thilges brought two runs in when he slapped a double to the right-field line. Josh Fitzgerald later had an RBI sac fly with the bases loaded that brought around Thilges to give the Knights seven in the fourth.
Merritt McCardle added an RBI triple in the fifth to make it 8-3.
Paulus kept the Blue Devils in check the rest of the way. With a runner on in the top of the seventh, he got the batter to fly out to Josh Fitzgerald in right and, with the runner having advanced too far, Fitzgerald tossed the ball to first for the double play to end the game, and then the craziness ensued.
“I thought it was a hit, actually,” Ben Fitzgerald said. “He hit the ball really hard, and when Josh caught it I took a peek over to first and saw the guy was off and I knew that Josh is the type of player that would whip it behind. Once we got it, it’s just a great feeling.”
Added Paulus, “Having Josh catch that ball and throw to first, he kind of took the worry away from me of getting that last out. It was a great feeling when he caught it and I saw the guy was running already. I freaked out right away because I know Josh could get it done and throw the guy out at first.”
Paulus etched his name in Newman history as he tossed a complete game with five strikeouts and no walks while allowing five hits to pick up the victory.
As was expected, Newman received contributions from all over the place as nobody recorded more than one hit and six different players recorded at least one hit and five drove in at least one run.
“I’m just so happy for them,” Newman coach Alex Bohl said. “They put in so much work throughout the year … and I’m speechless, honestly. “
“I couldn’t ask for a better way for these three seniors to go out — Ben, Peyton and Dylan (Nelson) — getting this opportunity is unbelievable, and the younger guys around them stepped up and came up big in huge situations for us. It’s what you play the game for, and if you can get it, there’s no better feeling.”