American Legion baseball: O.B. Nelson Post No. 3 opens new season

Apr. 16—OTTUMWA — Another season of American Legion baseball began this past weekend for Ottumwa's O.B. Nelson Post No. 3.

By the time this weekend is over, the season may come to an end.

O.B. Nelson opened its season at home with a pair of losses to Hiawatha, looking at times like a team playing its first two games. Walks and errors allowed Hiawatha to pull away for a 12-3 win in the opening game before hanging on for a 12-8 victory in the nightcap as 10 more walks issued by Ottumwa pitchers allowed a Cedar Rapids squad with six games already under their belt to answer each O.B. Nelson rally.

"Practices are hard to get in. There are a lot of us that also in track, plus we're getting prepared for the high school baseball season," Ottumwa junior Cameron Manary said. "The biggest thing for us, especially for the guys that are on the high school team, is to use this to get us ready for the high school season. This is kind of like the kick-start to our season."

There were positives to take away from the first two games of the season for O.B. Nelson. Chase Mitchell delivered an RBI double in the opening game for the Ottumwa squad while Tyler Schaus collected a triple, one of the three hits.

Schaus took the mound to open the second game of the doubleheader for O.B. Nelson, striking out two batters during an scoreless inning. Nolan Heller, who allowed one earned run on four hits on the mound in game one, gave O.B. Nelson the early lead in the nightcap with a two-out RBI single to drive in Andrew Evans giving Ottumwa an early lead.

"Everybody has been putting in the work. Everybody shows up. We have good attendance at every practice," Manary said. "It's just a matter of taking the small steps to get better at doing the small things."

Ultimately, O.B. Nelson's pitching struggled to consistently find the strike zone. Despite striking out the side in the second inning, Schaus walked four batters allowing Hiawatha to take the lead before O.B. Nelson responded, regaining a 3-2 lead on a run-scoring two-out single by Javen Rominger.

The back-and-forth battle continued in the third inning. Brody Griffin singled in the tying run bscore scoring on a squeeze bunt to put Hiawatha back on top, 4-3, before a clutch two-out double to deep left by Landon Boney sent Brayden Larkin on a sprint around the bases sliding across home plate to tie the game at 4-4.

"Landon put a nice ball in the gap and I just took off," Larkin said after going 2-5 in the nightcap for O.B. Nelson. "I listened to my base coaches and got the opportunity to score. I don't work on my slide technique much. It just comes natural to me."

Boney would score on a fielding error to put O.B. Nelson back on top, 5-4, before a four-run rally in the top of the fourth seemed to give Hiawatha control. Henry Schuster's RBI double in the fifth put the Cedar Rapids squad on top 9-5 before O.B. Nelson rallied again, bringing in three runs in the bottom of the fifth including base hits and runs scored by Manary and Evans getting Ottumwa back into the game.

In the end, O.B. Nelson came up one hit short of regaining the edge on the scoreboard. Schaus struck out looking, stranding Rominger at third with the potential tying run in the fifth, before Manary was robbed of a two-out run-scoring hit in the sixth on a diving catch in center with two runners on ending what proved to be O.B. Nelson's last chance at salvaging a season-opening split as Hiawatha scored three times in the seventh before ending the game with a 6-3 double play in the bottom of the inning.

"We just have to take the opportunities we get and learn from them," Larkin said. "I've been playing baseball my whole life. There's a lot of memories and a lot of time put into this game, so there's a lot of passion when things go the right way."

The next time O.B. Nelson Post No. 3 plays at home, they'll be doing so with an opportunity to qualify for the Iowa American Legion State Baseball Tournament. Ottumwa will play host to Bettendorf and reigning state champion Cedar Rapids Prairie on Saturday in a three-team district tournament starting at noon.

"It's a great opportunity for us," Larkin said. "Legion baseball gives you a chance to see live arms and get a feel for playing. That's why I love playing Legion baseball. You can get the errors out of the way now so you hopefully don't commit them later."

— Scott Jackson can be reached at Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.