INDEPENDENCE - For Independence, the prep football season opener bore little resemblance to its winless 2016 campaign.
Even in defeat, a clear message was sent that there are brighter days ahead for the Mustangs.
Independence nearly matc ... »
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DES MOINES — The Lone Tree Lions saw some good pitching this season. Just not this good.
Not this dominant.
“It’s tough being on a stage this big and not facing a pitcher as good as him all year,” said Erik Murry, after LeMars Gehlen’s Blake Wiltgen beat his team, 3-0, in a Class 1A state baseball tournament quarterfinal Saturday afternoon at Principal Park. “He’s obviously, by far, the best pitcher we’ve faced. It’s just tough going in, not seeing anything like that and then adjusting. And it showed.”
A 6-foot-5 southpaw, Wiltgen (9-1) threw a one-hitter, that one hit a little dribbler of a single down the third-base line from freshman Jovonte Squiers with two outs in the fifth inning. That was it.
When you’ve got a lively fastball and sharp breaking ball, you’re going to be tough to beat in prep baseball. When you’ve got those pitches and can throw them for strikes, you’re impossible to beat.
“Just the way he changed speeds,” said Murry, who unfortunately was Wiltgen’s mound opponent. “He had a killer curveball. The way he went from his fastball to his curveball right away was impressive. We faced great lefties all year. He was just on a different level.”
Wiltgen didn’t throw a completely clean game, walking four and hitting one. He walked the first two hitters of the game, in fact, with a sacrifice bunt moving them into scoring position.
But Ty Robertson struck out, Murry grounded to third, and thus ended Lone Tree’s best chance to score. Gehlen (30-3) scored an unearned run in the bottom of the first for the only run needed.
“I was definitely nervous and excited at the same time those first couple of batters,” said Wiltgen, who struck out 10. “It showed with those walks. But I knew my defense was behind me, so I just had to put it where they could hit it on the ground somewhere and get some outs.”
Murry acquitted himself nicely, giving up seven hits but pitching his way out of several tight situations. Gehlen nicked him to death with single runs in the first, third and fourth.
“Being here for the first time in 13 years, I wanted two things,” said Lone Tree Coach Steve Gibson. “I wanted the kids to enjoy the experience, which I think we have. Two, I wanted them to compete. We showed up and competed, and I’m proud of them for that.”
The Lions ended the season 21-7 and graduate just three seniors: first baseman Robertson, second baseman Shay Hudachek and catcher Levi Saterfield.
“We’ve got a lot of guys coming back, and we’re still going to be very solid next year,” Squiers said. “We’ve got some great pitchers coming up ... I think we’re going to be just as good, if not better. We’re going to lose three seniors who are indispensable, but we’re just have to fill in those spots.”
Gehlen plays Twin Cedars (34-0) in Thursday afternoon’s 1A semifinals. Mason City Newman (35-3) and Don Bosco (31-3) are the other semifinalists.
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