Redhawks suffer tough loss to Dons in district final at home

Final game for five North Tama seniors

Starting pitcher Gabe Kopriva pictured mid-windup in the opening moments of the Class 1A District 7 final in Traer on Saturday, July 9. –Photo by Soren M. Peterson

Tough breaks and more than a half-dozen errors led to a Redhawks loss, 7-15, last Saturday night to fifth-ranked Don Bosco in the Class 1A District 7 baseball final in Traer.

North Tama opened the game on a solid, hopeful footing – scoring two runs in the first courtesy of an error by the Dons’ second baseman who missed a pop-up by Adam Greiner leading to both Gabe Kopriva and Kolt Knaack crossing home plate. The Redhawks ended the first inning ahead, 2-0, the only time the team would lead the Dons all evening.

In the bottom of the first with the game tied 2-2 and two outs, a fielding error on North Tama’s part led to the Dons sending another runner home. Two more runs – the result of a Dons’ double and single – put the Redhawks down 5-2 heading into the second.

North Tama answered in the top of the second with two more runs – Michael Schrier hit an outfield single that pushed both Ryan Hosek and Gabe Kopriva across home plate – putting the Redhawks within one point of Don Bosco as the Dons stepped up to bat. But two more errors and a wild pitch in the third from Gabe Kopriva gave Don Bosco three more runs. From there the Dons seemingly never looked back with a commanding 8-4 lead. The Dons’ would go on to score five runs in the third and another two in the sixth.

In the top of the fourth, down 13-4, North Tama began what many in the Redhawks’ cheering sections up and down the sideline fencing hoped was the beginning of a comeback with three more runs scored – one on a balk, one on an error, and an RBI from Greiner – but those would be the final points of the game for North Tama.

During a Don Bosco mound visit and after advancing to second, senior Adam Greiner crouches on the base while beaming a smile toward the Redhawks' boisterously cheering dugout on Saturday, July 9, in Traer during the Class 1A District 7 final. –Photo by Ruby F. Bodeker

Despite the Dons also notching more than a half-dozen errors – giving the Redhawks plenty of opportunities for a rally – North Tama was unable to capitalize.

“[I]t was a real sloppy game both ways,” said North Tama head coach Dan Kopriva following the game. “We made a lot of mistakes with two outs where good teams will take advantage of – and [the Dons] did – and they gave us chances, too, but that’s about as sloppy a game as I’ve seen on both sides.”

Gabe Kopriva started the game on the mound for the Redhawks, striking out four batters and walking two, while giving up almost a dozen runs in 2 and 2/3 innings. Josh Dostal stepped in for Kopriva briefly, facing one batter and giving up a double before Devin McKinley took to the mound for the remainder of the game. In 3 and 1/3 innings, McKinley struck out four, walked two, and gave up two runs.

There were flashes of North Tama’s collective talent throughout the game – such as in the top of the fourth, a 1-2-3 inning led by McKinley that saw centerfielder Greiner grab a hard line drive and throw to Kopriva at second for the first out, after which Kopriva fielded another hard drive, throwing to first for the second out, and then to seal the deal Austin Unker snatched a flyball from the Dons to left field for the third out. Unfortunately, series/moments like these were not plentiful enough on North Tama’s part to knock down the gates and overtake Don Bosco.

This was the final high school baseball game for five seniors – Adam Greiner, Gabe Kopriva, Devin McKinley, Logan Rausch, and Austin Unker. All five – save for Logan Rausch in his junior year – spent all four years playing together under Dan Kopriva. In three of those four years – including this year – the team took home the Iowa Star-South Conference championship title, coming in second for just the 2020-2021 season.

At the start of a 1-2-3 fourth inning pitched by Devin McKinley, senior Gabe Kopriva points to his teammate, centerfielder Adam Greiner (off-camera) after Greiner grabbed a hard line drive and threw to Kopriva who tagged second for the first out of the inning. –Photo by Ruby F. Bodeker

“Yeah, it is tough,” Dan Kopriva said when asked about losing the five. “It doesn’t get any easier every single year. … A lot of times in Class [1A] you don’t have that many seniors by the time they’re seniors. They were good leaders for us.”

Looking ahead to next year, coach Kopriva admitted it will be a rebuilding season with so much talent exiting the team.

“[Sophomore Tyler Popelka] will be our ace [pitcher] next year,” coach Kopriva said. “And then we’ve got Lefty [Josh] Dostal over at first base that pitches. We’ll have to develop some more.”

As the team walked off the empty field Saturday night following their final huddle, the Telegraph observed senior McKinley take pause and look out over J.L Lister Field in what could only be interpreted as a moment of reflection. Win or lose, it’s still a special feeling to play that final high school game on the home field – but losing is never easy, especially when a team has come so close to a ticket to the state tournament.

“Anytime you have these district games you’re as excited as heck if you win and disappointed if you lose – it’s do or die,” coach Kopriva said before finishing his thoughts with, “The guys are down today but they had a pretty good year, they’ve captured a conference championship … something to be proud of.”

Senior Devin McKinley and catcher Michael Schrier animatedly chat on the mound on Saturday, July 9, in Traer during the Class 1A District 7 final. –Photo by Ruby F. Bodeker

Makes the hometown crowd certainly proud, too, to be a Redhawk.

The Redhawks ended the 2021-2022 season with a 17-10 record and the bragging rights to the number two player in the state in stolen bases – senior Gabe Kopriva with 46.

Look for North Tama’s All-Conference honors to print in an upcoming edition of the North Tama Telegraph.

Senior Gabe Kopriva heads toward third on his way to home plate during the Class 1A District 7 final in Traer on Saturday, July 9. –Photo by Soren M. Peterson

Second baseman Tyler Popelka catches a line drive during the Class 1A District 7 final in Traer on Saturday, July 9. –Photo by Ruby F. Bodeker

Members of the Redhawks baseball team including (center, l-r) Ryan Hosek, Tyler Popelka, and Devin McKinley listen as head coach Dan Kopriva (off-camera) speaks during the team’s final huddle of the season following North Tama’s loss to Don Bosco in the Class 1A District 7 final on July 9 at J.L. Lister Field in Traer. –Photo by Ruby F. Bodeker.