SIOUX CITY – With so many new faces in the lineup, Sergeant Bluff-Luton baseball coach Matt Nelson wasn’t sure what to expect at the start of the season.
So far, so good for the Warriors, who lost several key pieces from an outfit that has won the last two Missouri River Conference titles.
SB-L, ranked No. 8 in Class 3A by the Iowa Baseball Coaches Association, stretched its winning streak to eight games with a doubleheader sweep at West High Thursday.
Deric Fitzgerald hit a crucial two-run homer while Cody Salker wriggled out of a late jam in a 5-3 victory in the opener. The Warriors had to hold off a West rally to claim a 9-6 triumph in the nightcap.
Fitzgerald, one of only two players who saw varsity action a year ago, connected for a two-run shot in the top of the sixth, just after West had pulled within 3-2 with a couple of runs in the bottom of the fifth.
The Wolverines got a run in the seventh and had the tying run on second base. Salker issued a walk to Chase Antel before Nelson made a visit to the mound.
“I didn’t really say anything to calm him down, I just wanted to know if he wanted to finish it,” Nelson said. “He was at 109 (pitches) so I said this is your guy, are you going to get him or not? Before I even got out he said he wanted to finish it, so I said, OK let’s see what happens.”
Salker proceeded to strike out Ray Ray Douglas, the No. 3 hitter in the West lineup, on three straight pitches to preserve the victory.
“It was the middle of their order, a guy who hits well,” Nelson said. “It was a good outing for Cody and a good team win.
“Our league is very competitive, you have good pitching, good defense, veteran guys who have seen pitching before. It’s fun league every Tuesday and Thursday night.”
Nelson said he pencils in Fitzgerald at the top of his order because of his experience.
“He’s hit the ball hard but the last the last three games he’s just had some hard line drives right at people,” Nelson said. “Nobody could get to that one so I was happy for him.”
Fitzgerald, a sophomore shortstop who played third base last season as a freshman, got one up into a jet stream blowing hard toward left field. It was just enough to carry the ball over the fence with Dylan Laughlin aboard, giving SB-L aa 5-2 cushion.
Laughlin hit a one-out single down the left field line and advanced to second on an errant pickoff attempt. He also scored his team’s third run in the fourth when he reached on a throwing error by the third baseman and raced home on a long double off the left-centerfield fence by Jacob Massey.
The Warriors scored a run in the second, stringing together consecutive singles by Sean Owens, Daniel Wright, Salker and Laughlin. Wright hit an RBI single in the third.
West cut into the lead in the fifth when Jesse Elgert and Alec Nieman started the inning with back-to-back singles. Connor James advanced the runners with a sacrifice bunt and they each scored on a double by Jaren Hollingshead.
While Salker went the distance for Sergeant Bluff-Luton, Colby Nieman took over for West starter Max Luesebrink after he gave up the home run to Fitzgerald. Nieman retired four of the five batters he faced.
Sergeant Bluff-Luton went to work early in the second game, scoring six runs in the first three innings. That included a four-run second aided by three Wolverine errors. Fitzgerald cracked a two-run double and Spencer Kleene also doubled home a run in the second frame.
The Warriors got an unearned run in the first inning and made it 6-0 on Fitzgerald’s third RBI on a ground out to second base in the third. The lead grew to 7-0 before West plated six runs in the bottom of the sixth.
Jesse Elgert had a two-run double, while Alec Nieman, Hollingshead and Matt Elgert also knocked in runs. The Wolverines had the tying run at third and go-ahead run at second but reliever Zac Hamilton got the final out, then worked a scoreless seventh for a save.
Colby Klingensmith provided some insurance with an RBI single in the seventh while Kleene knocked in another run with a sacrifice fly. Klingsensmith finished 3-for-5 and Kleene was 2-for-4 with a double and Laughlin 2-for-3 with three runs scored.
Nieman and Hollingshead collected two hits apiece for West.
Sergeant Bluff-Luton improved its overall record to 14-4-1 and is 9-3 in the MRAC.
“I’ve been pleased with our performance so far, especially being so young and inexperienced,” Nelson said. “We’ve got basically one regular defensive player and one-and-a-half offensive guys from last year. So we’re brand new. We’re learning the game at a little bit higher level than freshman or JV ball so I’ve been pleased with our performance. We’ve stubbed our toes a few times but we’ve won some games we played really well in, too.
“I just keep telling them when we have good days that can’t be the highlight of the season. The highlight has to be later on in the second half of the conference or in tournament play. That’s when we have to peak. We can’t think that maybe we are pretty good because that’s when you get beat by teams.”
West is 6-11 overall and 3-9 in the MRAC.