Riverhawks season ends in heartbreaking fashion to fifth-ranked Jaguars | North Iowa High School Baseball


Troy Rood has coached a lot of baseball games for Mason City.

He’s had his fair share of triumphs that featured deep postseason runs to the state tournament. The other side of the coin is feeling the heartache of a season being gone in the blink of an eye.

By his own admission, Monday night ranks up there in terms of heart-wrenching losses.

Class 4A fifth-ranked Ankeny Centennial scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh to triumph over the Riverhawks 2-1 and set up a top-five showdown against top-ranked Johnston in the Substate 2 final on Wednesday night.

Yet in Rood’s mind, Mason City would have given the Dragons quite the battle for the right to go to Iowa City next week.

“Recent bias, it is probably one of the top three or five,” Rood said. “It was absolutely soul-crushing. If (Mason City) would have came to town tomorrow night, we’re going to have a fight on our hands.”

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It was classic pitchers duel between the Riverhawks senior Carter Thomas and the Jaguars’ Easton Pratt. The two combined for 17 strikeouts and just seven total hits were given up against them.

Mason City (22-18) snared an early 1-0 lead in the top of the third off a leadoff triple from No. 9 hitter James Fingalsen and Thomas drove him in with an RBI groundout.

Ethen Roberts also roped a triple, but was left stranded on base.

“Justyn Rivera, with no outs, grounded out to second and James didn’t break,” Rood said. “Luckily, Carter picked us up.”

Thomas, a southpaw and Wayne State recruit, kept Centennial off balance with his fastball-curveball combo and off the scoreboard for the first six innings.

Mason City remained in front 1-0 heading into the seventh.

“It was absolutely impressive,” Rood said. “He was in total control. He was flat out dealing.”

The Jaguars found life and it was enough to win.

After Kyle Miller led off the frame with a single, Cole Grider laid down a bunt and Thomas fielded it and was charged with an error on the throw. A flyout moved both Miller and Grider to scoring position.

And Damin Churchman ripped a single that plated both of them and sent Centennial into a frenzy.

“I toyed with the idea of intentionally walking him,” Rood said. “I just think having that open base, Carter is going to have more confidence in his breaking ball. Something I’ll think about for many weeks.”

A season that has featured 20 wins in six of the last eight campaigns ended in a heartbreaking way. On the drive back to Mason City and the day after experiencing that loss, Rood kept things in perspective.

And he didn’t regret one action, one move or one game this season.

“You’re going to have the ups and the downs and the key for me is, the healing process always is flipping the page as quickly as possible,” he said. “If I keep dwelling on it, I will eat myself alive. I have to start preparing to be really good in 2023.”

Four seniors depart the program, three of them starters in Thomas, Kellar Malek and Cooper Wiemann. Thomas recorded 28 extra base hits, drove in 54 RBIs and roped a batting average of .433.

Wiemann was the block behind the plate while Malek manned first base batted over .300 with 30 runs batted in.

“The hardest part of losing, even when you win a state championship, you don’t get to practice the next day,” Rood said. “Told them I love them and how much better of a person they made me.

“You’re not going to get rich doing this, but you get rich relationships. That’s why being the high school baseball coach at Mason City High School is the best job in the world.” 

The cupboard is far from bare with talent.

Leading home run hitter Kaden Tyler and one of the Riverhawks top pitchers in Roberts are expected to return for the 2023 season. Four other starters are likely to return as will six additional players that saw game action in at least 11 games.

A new day as already started and Rood will think about the 2022 season, remember it fondly, then look to 2023. It will be the first year for Mason City in the new Iowa Alliance Conference.

A fresh start for the Riverhawks will soon be taking place and Rood is quite excited for that opportunity.

“I’m going to miss dearly the CIML, but I think this is what is best for our school and our community,” Rood said. “We have a chance to be very successful.”

Zach Martin is a sports reporter for the Globe Gazette. Reach him via email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @zach_martin95.


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