Photo by Jeff Yoder
Your Prep Sports
DES MOINES – Playing a critical role in leading Regina to the state title game wasn’t a surprise to Jayden Kies.
That had been the goal for Kies since the first time he put on a Regina uniform.
It was how Kies helped the Regals reach the state championship game for the first time since 1994 that was the stunner.
A center fielder with two varsity innings pitched before this season Kies struck out a career-high 10 in a five-hit complete game on Thursday in a 4-3 win over No. 9 Van Meter (30-9) in a Class 2A state semifinal at Principal Park in Des Moines.
“Heck yes it’s been a surprise,” Kies said when asked about his pitching performance this season. “Hitting I’ve always been able to piece something together, I feel like I’m hitting better this year than I ever have but pitching I didn’t see that coming. It’s been a surprise.”
A pleasant surprise for Regina.
Kies improved to 6-0 on the season with the win, allowing just one earned run on five hits and a pair of walks.
After allowing a run on three hits in the first inning Kies allowed just two hits the rest of the way while helping third-ranked Regina (29-7) reach the state title game with its 12th consecutive win.
“I told him before the game this is the last time he is every going to pitch in a Regina uniform,” Regina coach Jeff Pacha said. “I’m pretty confident he left it all out there tonight.”
Ryne Schooley had an RBI single in a three-run Regina second inning that gave the Regals a lead they would never give up.
Mitch Gahan added an RBI single in the fifth that proved valuable after two Regina errors in the seventh let Van Meter climb to within a run at 4-3.
Kies got Brett Berg to hit a slow roller to shortstop to end the game as Van Meter stranded the tying run at second.
“That game was pure guts,” Pacha said. “Van Meter battled all the way to the final out. We grinded out at bats, we made plays when we had to, we had a couple of errors but I’m proud of them because of the effort and quite honestly the guts. That’s what it was about tonight.”
Regina will go for the first title in program history in its fourth championship appearance when it faces Centerville (26-7) in the 2A title game on Saturday at 1:30 p.m.
“It feels great, just to be part of it is a great feeling,” Gahan said. “To know that we can come out on top on Saturday is an even better feeling.”
Regina finished with just five hits but it was enough for Kies who has thrown shutouts in four of six starts this season.
“He’s been fantastic,” Gahan said. “He hasn’t done a lot of pitching prior to this year and he comes in and is 6-0 now and has just done great job on the mound.”
How good as Kies been on the mound this season?
So good his earned run average actually rose to .62 after allowing a single earned run in the complete game victory on Thursday.
“My mentality with pitching is to not be cocky but be really confident,” Kies said. “I’m not the best pitcher on the mound, obviously Mitch is our best and we have other good guys but if I can tell myself I’m the best I will be the best up there and it translates.”
Van Meter got to Kies early on Thursday.
The Bulldogs opened the game with back-to-back hits and took a 1-0 lead when leadoff hitter JJ Durflinger scored on an Anthony Potthoff sacrifice fly.
A Spencer Lamb single loaded the bases with two outs but Kies escaped without further damage when he got Marshall Smith to ground to shortstop Masen Miller to end the inning.
The first inning I normally don’t get nervous but I got a little nervous,” Kies said. “After that first inning I just said I’m fine and I was able to throw strikes and get in a groove.”
Bryce Cole led off the Van Meter second with a sharp single.
That was all the Bulldogs would be able to get until the seventh.
Kies retired 15 of the next 17 batters he faced, as Van Meter got baserunners on a throwing error and a two-out walk in the third.
“The first inning I think maybe some nerves were kicking in, he was a little tight with his breaking ball and he wasn’t commanding the way he wanted to and once he got it going then they started hitting again and we had to make an adjustment,” Pacha said. “All the while the key is with Jayden is he has the guts to go back to the breaking ball and throw it for a strike no matter the count of the sequence.”
Kies used his curveball to baffle Bulldog hitters over the final five innings.
He struck out Smith to end the third, starting a string of 10 consecutive outs.
Kies fanned the side in the fourth and had all of his 10 strikeouts over the final five innings.
“I just kept hammering that curve ball and it just kept working,” Kies said. “Then I’d come with a fastball and it would be right there.
Regina took advantage of two walks and a Bulldog throwing error during a three-run second inning.
Evan Suchomel and Hunter Liebermann drew walks around a Nick Brandt sac bunt.
Suchomel scored on a throwing error after a ground ball off the bat of Kies and Ryne Schooley followed with the Regals only hit of the inning, an RBI single to right field that gave Regina a 2-1.
“My approach that at bat was trying to hit a ground ball to the right side with a runner on third,” Schooley said. “I was trying to do what we call a team hack and it worked.”
The Regals added another run in the third on a Ryan Schott sacrifice fly and tacked on a run on the Gahan single in the fifth.
“I just tried to put it in play and hope it dropped,” Gahan said. “I was kind of in a slump and that’s a good way to get out of one.”
Van Meter 100 000 x – 3 5 1
Regina 030 01x x – 4 5 3
W – Jayden Kies L – Brett Berg
2B – ICR: Blake Berns
3B – VM: Bryce Cole