Blake Welu has experienced plenty of big moments during his prep athletic career at Iowa-Grant, but last Thursday has to be right near the top of the list.
The senior, who won an individual state wrestling title and led the Panthers to the WIAA team wrestling state tournament this past winter, and quarterbacked the I-G football team to a 7-3 record last fall, had unquestionably his best day on baseball diamond in last week’s 2-0 shutout victory over Southwestern.
Welu tossed a complete-game no hitter and struck out 16 batters while allowing just one walk, by far his most dominating pitching performance in the I-G black-and-red.
But to top it off Welu provided all the offense his team would need with a two-run homer to straight away centerfield in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Welu’s blast broke up a scoreless pitchers’ duel between himself and Southwestern ace Keaton Kephart. Welu’s homer was just one of two hits in the game and the only one that left the infield.
Iowa-Grant senior Garret Nagel broke up Kephart’s no-hit bid earlier in the sixth inning when he led off with a bunt single. After Eli Wienkes sacrificed Nagel to second Welu hammered Kephart’s first offering over the orange snow fence in centerfield.
Southwestern had a golden opportunity to score in the top of the fifth inning, but Welu worked around a pair of errors.
Kephart reached on an error to lead of the inning, and I-G committed a second straight defensive miscue on a Nate Tranel grounder. But I-G first baseman Colin Conner alertly tracked down the overthrow of first base on Tranel’s hit and threw Kephart out at third trying to take and extra base.
After a passed ball moved Tranel to third, Welu got out of the pickle with back-to-back strikeouts of Ben Kuhle and Mike Fitzgerald.
“Blake just overpowered them at times. He is a three-year starter that has had some trials and tribulations in the past,” explained I-G head coach Chris Rear. “He’s had a tendency to get down on himself and his teammates when errors are committed behind him, but he stayed focused Thursday, battled and found a way to get us out of the inning.
“He has really worked hard to have that kind of success and I am really happy for him,” added coach Rear.
Last Tuesday the Panthers (1-1, 1-0 SWAL) struggled in every facet of the game in a 10-0 loss to visiting Barneveld.
The Panthers managed just one hit, committed four errors on defense and allowed 14 walks in the loss.
“It was embarrassing, but it’s nice to know it was just a non-conference game early in the year,” said Rear. “We are a young team. We are still learning and we can only get better from here.”
Iowa-Grant 2, S’western 0
(from Thursday, April 5 @ Iowa-Grant)
Southwestern 000 000 0 - 0 0 0
Iowa-Grant 000 002 x - 2 2 2
Leading hitters - none. HR - IG: Blake Welu. W - Blake Welu (1-1, 7 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 16 SO, 1 BB). L - Kephart (6 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 13 SO, 2 BB).
Barneveld 10, Iowa-Grant 0
(from Tuesday, April 3 @ Iowa-Grant)
Barneveld 042 31 - 10 2 1
Iowa-Grant 000 00 - 0 1 4
Leading hitters - none. 2B - IG: Blake Welu. W - Lee Sawyer (4 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 6 SO, 3 BB). L - Cody Rider (0-1, 1.2 IP, 0 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 2 SO, 5 BB).