CARROLL, Iowa — At the very end, Marlin Schoonhoven walked away from the game of baseball with his head held high.
Schoonhoven’s 24-year career as head coach of the Unity Christian High School baseball team came to an end on Wednesday in the Class 2A state semifinals at Merchants Park in Carroll, as the Knights lost to two-time defending state champion Van Meter, 4-3.
While it was a heartbreaking end to Unity’s Christian’s strong season, Schoonhoven was proud of how his team battled against the No. 2 ranked team in the state. His scrappy Knights' squad made its first state tournament appearance in 19 years. Losing by a run to Van Meter wasn't a bad way to go out.
“We had them on the ropes,” Schoonhoven said. “We had one big hit. We didn’t hit the ball very much, but they had an outstanding pitcher on the mound. That is why they are one of the state champs.”
That one big hit came courtesy of starting pitcher Clayton Bosma. After a pair of Knights reached base on a walk and a wild pitch, Bosma smacked a three-run homer in the third inning off of Van Meter pitcher Ganon Archer, to give the Knights a 3- 0 lead.
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The home run sent a jolt through the Unity Christian crowd, and Bosma was greeted at home plate by a group of ecstatic teammates.
“He was showing first pitch fastball, and I just jumped on that first one,” Bosma said. “... Off the bat, I kind of knew it was gone, and it felt good. All the emotions were going.”
In addition to his work at the plate, Bosma put up an outstanding effort on the mound. On a suffocating hot day in Carroll, Bosma kept Van Meter in check until the final inning, with a seven-inning outing where he allowed four earned runs on seven hits, with a pair of walks and four strikeouts.
“I have all the trust in the world in the guys behind me,” Bosma said. “I know that all I have to do is pound the zone, and they’re going to have my back, and they did.”
Until the sixth, the only runs Van Meter managed against Bosma came in the third inning, when the Bulldogs plated a pair with an RBI triple from freshman Austin Baumhover, who then scored on a sacrifice fly to right field from junior Jack Pettit. Baumhover’s run pulled the Bulldogs to within a run, at 3-2.
Unity Christian held the one-run lead until the bottom of the sixth inning, when the Van Meter offense finally broke through. With one out, senior Zach Pleggenhuhle reached on a single, and took second when Jacob Blomgren reached on an infield error.
When Van Meter pitcher Ganon Archer drew a walk to load the bases with one out, Schoonhoven walked out to the mound to talk to his pitcher.
Bosma got the second out of the inning by striking out catcher Ben Gilliand, but lost the lead when sophomore first baseman Ike Speltz stroked a two-run single to center field. On the play, Speltz and Archer each took an extra base as the throw home from the outfield soared over catcher Blake Vande Vegte’s head.
Bosma escaped further damage, though, by getting the next batter to fly out to the right field.
In the top of the seventh, the Knights went down in order, as Eli Erwin flew out to center, James Bouma struck out looking, and Vande Vegte grounded out to Baumhover at second base to end the game.
When the final out was made, the Van Meter crowd roared its approval, as the Bulldogs punched their ticket to the Class 2A state final for the third year in a row.
“We had all the momentum in the world, and then they slowly started chipping,” senior Tanner Schouten said. “I’ve got to give credit to our guys, we kept fighting. We kept fighting, and that is all we’ve got to do. I knew that every one of them played their hardest. (We) just didn’t come out on top.”
While he and his players wished that they could play for one more day, Schoonhoven was proud as he walked off the field with his team for the final time. He will be stepping away from the program to focus on his job as a school administrator at Sheldon Christian School.
“These guys, they did everything they could to win the baseball game,” Schoonhoven said. “I don’t have any regrets about what we did. They were awesome here tonight.”
Van Meter will play Thursday against either Camanche or Centerville for the Class 2A state title.
Unity Christian finished the season with 21-8 overall record, and made it to the state tournament for only the second time in school history.
"I’m going to miss this game,” Schoonhoven said. “I love it. I’ve been doing it for 28 years, 24 as a head coach, and it’s just one of those fun things to do.”
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