Popelka’s no-no seals North Tama’s title

Sophomore pitches five-inning no-hitter as Redhawks lock down another Iowa Star South crown

North Tama sophomore pitcher Tyler Popelka, left, delivers to the plate during the fourth inning of Monday’s Iowa Star Conference baseball game against Clarksville at J.L. Lister Field in Traer. Popelka struck out six and faced the minimum number of opposing batters in a five-inning no-hitter, with the Redhawks winning 10-0. -Photo by Noah Rohlfing

Clarksville wasn’t the toughest opponent the North Tama baseball team has come up against this season. Coming in with a 1-12 season record, Clarksville was mitching up pitchers and trying to find its way through this game. In the other dugout, Redhawks sophomore Tyler Popelka was working on a game he likely won’t forget anytime soon.

A five-inning no-hitter from Popelka was a driving force for a 10-0 win for the Redhawks, which bumped them to 15-7 on the season and occurred on the same day the team celebrated its fourth Iowa Star South Championship in five seasons with a 10-3 conference mark.

Head coach Dan Kopriva — who picked up his 404th win Monday — said it was a great feeling to win the title with a strong core of senior players — Gabe Kopriva, Devin McKinley, Austin Unker, Logan Rausch and Adam Greiner — that have been together for years.

“It feels great, for this team since their eighth-grade year this is their fourth year winning it,” Dan said. “In Class A ball, it’s tough to have that many out by the time they’re senior. Logan’s been a key to us, he didn’t go out last year but came back this year.”

The first batter of the game for Clarksville reached base via an error. Gavin Kelm was the only Clarksville batter to reach first base all game, as apart from the error Popelka had a perfect outing — no hits, no walks allowed and six strikeouts. He faced the minimum of 15 batters to get 15 outs. He was in complete control of proceedings, and along with what coach Kopriva said was great help from the infield of McKinley, Gabe Kopriva, Rausch and Josh Dostal, he gave the Redhawks little to worry about on defense.

Photo by Noah Rohlfing

Popelka said his curveball was working well and everything else fell into place.

“I was feeling pretty confident,” Popelka said. “I always trust [my fielders] and put all the faith in their hands, so it was pretty cool.”

At the plate, the Redhawks were aggressive from the jump. Scoring just one run at first and recording 12 hits, while North Tama ran itself into trouble at times on the basepaths, there was plenty for Dan to like. Four batters had two hits apiece — Kolt Knaack, Logan Rausch, McKinley and Unker — and seven different batters drove in a run.

Gabe crossed home in the first inning, while Distal and Unker were brought home in the second inning. One more run from Rausch in the third pushed the score to 4-0 and gave the Redhawks plenty of breathing room.

Three runs in the fourth and fifth innings were enough to close out the win, with Knaack’s two-run hit in the bottom of the fifth driving home Hosek and McKinley to seal the deal. He led all batters with three RBIs.

Photo by Noah Rohlfing

Now, it’s all about preparation for the playoffs, which begin on Saturday for North Tama against AGWSR. The Redhawks host Lynnville-Sully Tuesday evening.

“We’re gonna treat [Lynnville-Sully] like a playoff game, that’s gonna get us ready,” Dan said. “That’ll be a good challenge. Thursday the Hudson game we’ll have to throw by committee. You want to win every game, but you’re definitely getting ready and making sure you have pitching back for district play.”