Century Baseball Debuts at U.S. Bank Stadium

Tony Harringer | Staff Writer

In the wee hours of the morning on Friday, Feb. 24, something happened for the first time in the history of U.S. Bank Stadium. College baseball started, hopefully, a long-lasting tradition.

The players on Century’s team bus were pretty quiet and focused on the early morning ride to the stadium. As players got off the bus and walked onto the field, their eyes popped open and their heads were on a swerve. Taking in the whole stadium in one glance was too much.

Four and a half hours later, the first official games, between Century College and Iowa Central Community College, ended in a split series.

The first game, at 6 a.m., matched up sophomore Austin Suhr from Iowa Central and sophomore Josh Gaworski from Century College. The first inning did not start well for Century, as the first three Iowa Central batters got on base. With the bases loaded and nobody out, Gaworski settled down and refocused. He struck out the next three batters to get out of the inning unscathed.

Austin Suhr brought his game as well, retiring the first seven batters from Century College. The teams traded chances, but the first game was really a pitcher’s duel.  Finally, in the fifth, Iowa Central broke through. Jared Renken laced a double into the left field gap, and two batters later, Austin Halligan hit another double to drive in Renken for the first run of the game.

In his three innings of work, Suhr did not allow a hit and struck out four batters. Gaworski did as much as he could. He had six solid innings, allowing three hits, and impressively striking out seven batters. Century’s dugout was quiet and filled with frustration of not breaking through on the field in prior at-bats. Century was able to get a couple of men on, but couldn’t score in the late innings. Iowa Central shut them down to win the first game, 1-0.

There was about a twenty minute “intermission” in between game one and two.

The second game would match up freshman Maxwell Steffens for Iowa Central and freshman Ryan Hennen for Century College. Similar to game one, it was another pitcher’s duel. Despite both being freshmen, the pitchers didn’t seem fazed by the big stage. Steffens went four innings, allowing three hits, and striking out four batters in a great effort for Iowa Central.

Neither team could string together more than one hit at most per inning. Anderson DeLeon came in to pitch for Iowa Central in the fifth and used his scolding fast pitches to keep the Century bats quiet. At one point DeLeon struck out five of six batters during the sixth and seventh innings.

Both teams were tied 0-0 after seven innings, equivalent to nine innings in a professional game, so the teams were going to extras.  Hennen pitched outstanding, going seven innings, allowing three hits and striking out seven batters.

Going into the top of the eighth, Century’s bats had been silenced both games to this point and the pressure was high for some offensive production.

Hushed by DeLeon, who had not allowed a hit since he came in for relief, Century batters had seen his pitches a few times now, and began to recognize them.

With one out, sophomore Zach Walz got on with a single. The dugout came alive and filled with energy. Up next was freshman catcher, Mike Schiller. He battled into a 3 and 1 count, and sent a pitch down the left field line for a double. Walz came all the way around from first to score.  When Walz crossed home plate, Century’s dugout exploded and every player went to high five Walz.

With a run in and Schiller on second, freshman Bryce Jorgenson had a huge at bat coming up. Once again like Schiller, Jorgenson got into another good count at 2 and 1. Jorgenson let it rip on a pitch and hit it in between two outfielders for a single. Schiller was on his horse to home from second base and scored easily to double Century’s lead to 2-0. The dugout once again erupted and celebrated.

DeLeon had lost the command of his pitches that at one point seemed unhittable. But Iowa Central’s coaches left him out there to continue. Freshman Griffin Schneider was next to bat. During Schneider’s at bat, Jorgenson took off for second and slid in safely for a stolen base. Now, a single could do damage, and that is what happened. Schneider sent a pitch into the right field gap for a single, and Jorgenson raced around from second to score Century’s third run of the inning.

Going into the bottom of the eighth, Century stood three outs away from their first win at U.S. Bank Stadium and a split series. Listed as a pitcher/outfielder, Walz came in to close — yes, the same Walz that got everything going with a single and scored the first run of the game.

The first batter hit a fly ball to the outfield, but not far enough as it was tracked down for an out. Walz struck out the next batter for Iowa Central, Rodney Rodriguez. The final man came to the plate for Iowa Central. Walz started Felix Martinez off with a strike. On the third pitch, Martinez bounced a pitch to the second baseman, who threw him out at first for the final out. Everyone came out of the dugout and gave hugs and high fives to congratulate each other on the nice win.

Postgame, Walz said that it was a great feeling to close out the game and get the win. “I was so exhausted (from playing offense to quickly getting warmed up to pitch), I just tried to stay calm out there and make my pitches,” said Walz.

Century Coach, Dwight Kotila mentioned that it was a great and fun experience for his players. “Being able to play well and win one of the games and be able to play right away (in February) is a nice bonus,” he said. “I just think being able to play in U.S. Bank Stadium for the first time is always going to be the memorable part.”

Schiller was ecstatic about his go-ahead hit that gave Century its first run of the season. “I was just like, ‘Oh, my god’ we might actually be able to score and get the lead.’”

Schiller was happy with the win, but stressed the need to improve: “We need to swing the bat better as a team, but it was just a great team win.”

The players got back on the team bus to travel back to Century, and each of them had a smile on their face. It almost seemed like they had won both games rather than a tie series.

Instead, they got to make history as one team, together, in an incredible setting.