American Legion baseball: O.B. Nelson falls twice in district tournament

Apr. 30—OTTUMWA — Trying to get past the reigning state champions was tough enough.

Trying to do so in conditions better suited for football season made it even tougher on O.B. Nelson Post No. 3 in the Iowa American Legion district baseball tournament.

The boys of Ottumwa hung in for as long as they could in their bid to stun Swisher Post No. 671, the squad that not only won the legion baseball state title last spring but ultimately ended their season playing the American Legion World Series. O.B. Nelson stayed within two runs of the Cedar Rapids squad and were one pitch away from getting out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth.

Javen Rominger, however, could not find that one last strike needed to keep Swisher from pulling away. Four walks to six batters in the inning not only brought Rominger's day on the mound to a close, but it opened a four-run rally for Swisher putting away a 9-1 win that was much more competitive than the final score would indicate.

Ultimately, O.B. Nelson had the fight. Both Swisher and Bettendorf had the experience capitalizing on multiple opportunities provided by an Ottumwa squad that entered the day with only four games under their belt this spring.

Bettendorf closed out the district tournament winning 10-4 in the third and final game of the day over O.B. Nelson, scoring five late unearned runs set up by four errors in the final three innings of the contest. Swisher would ultimately win the district title, edging Bettendorf late in the decisive second game of the tournament for a 3-1 victory that clinched a perfect day in Ottumwa for the eastern Iowa squad sending Swisher back to this weekend's American Legion state baseball tournament.

"For my first outing on the mound, my arm's definitely going to hurt because I haven't thrown that much," Rominger said after allowing just two hits and one earned run over five innings to the reigning state legion champions. "I look at as a way to get conditioned for the (high school) baseball season. It was good to get some innings in, but by the end the cold was definitely affecting me."

Rominger struggled to consistently find the strike zone, walking six batters while hitting three more giving Swisher numerous opportunities to put more runs on the scoreboard. By the time Rominger walked in Swisher's third run of the game, the Ottumwa senior was already nearing the 105-pitch limit allowing just two hits over 5 2/3 innings.

"My body started shutting down. I was getting tired and getting cold," Rominger said. "It was hard to place the ball where I wanted. I'm not really much of a cold-weather guy. I was freezing the whole game. It was hard to get a good grip on the ball and stay warmed up when you're hands are that cold."

Kameron Volz kept the Ottumwa bats cold in the gray, windy conditions. The Swisher ace set down the first 13 O.B. Nelson batters of the game, striking out four batters, before leaving after six innings having allowed just one Chase Thompson hit and three O.B. Nelson hitters to reach base.

"It just took us awhile to get going at the plate," Ottumwa senior Matthew Mitchell said. "I'm glad we get a chance to come out here and play some games together before the high school season, but it's definitely kind of a curveball playing in a district tournament just one week after playing our first games."

The bats did start to come around after the first six innings of the district tournament. Cameron Manary singled and scored O.B. Nelson's only run against Swisher, crossing the plate on a two-out RBI hit by Brayden Larkin in the seventh. O.B. Nelson had a hit in five of the seven innings against Bettendorf, including three hits by Rominger with a two-run triple into the right-field corner giving Bulldog baseball fans a glimpse of what type of excitement Ottumwa may be able to produce this summer at the spacious surroundings of Legion Memorial Field.

"I hadn't really caught a barrel in awhile. I didn't hit the ball very well last weekend, so to finally start connecting at the plate felt pretty good," Rominger said. "If I can keep hitting that corner and keep hitting triples, I'll be alright."

Mitchell added an RBI single of his own against Bettendorf, driving in Manary in the fourth inning as O.B. Nelson cut a six-run deficit down to 6-2 in the fifth. Defensively, Mitchell showed off the strong arm of Ottumwa football's starting quarterback gunning out Ian Bell deep in the hole at short to keep Bettendorf off the scoreboard in the fourth.

"I just need to start hitting the ball better and work on my fielding before the high school season begins," Mitchell said. "There are positives to take away from the games we've played."