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CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids Prairie Coach Todd Rima will be able to rest a little easier now.
His players, however, will likely be wired for the next couple days.
Rima tossed and turned Tuesday night, hoping his seniors would be rewarded with a state berth the following day. After all, they have taken Hawks baseball to new heights, including two Mississippi Valley Conference divisional titles, a school record in wins and 65 total victories.
Make it 66 and the program’s second trip to the Iowa High School Athletic Association state baseball tournament.
Top-ranked Prairie received four RBIs from Nic Mougin and Jared Street threw four innings of shutout relief, dropping Cedar Falls, 7-3, in the Class 4A Substate 2 final Wednesday night at home.
“I’m so happy for those kids,” Rima said. “They bought in two years ago and those seniors have won a ton of games. They deserve to go.”
This moment was a year in the making. Last year, the Hawks fell a win short, losing to eventual state runner-up Iowa City West.
Senior Ethan Copeland, who had two hits against the Tigers, reminded himself daily with an image of the Trojans celebrating saved to his phone.
“I took it really hard,” said Copeland, noting that it will stay until the season is done. “I actually have a picture of them celebrating on my lock screen, so every time I open my phone I see it. That is what fueled me (and) it fueled a lot of the seniors.”
The Hawks (35-6) jumped the Tigers with a leadoff double from Blake Viall and a bunt single from Copeland on the next at-bat in the first. With two outs and Cooper Reittinger walking to load the bases, Mougin stepped to the plate.
Mougin delivered the first of two key two-run hits, this time driving in Copeland and Reittinger with a shot off the left-field fence, giving Prairie a 3-0 lead.
“I knew I came close,” Mougin said about a home run. “We still got two runs in and that’s all that really matters to me.”
He left little doubt his final plate appearance. Mougin launched an offering to left field for a two-run home run in the fifth, padding Prairie’s lead to four.
“I knew he was going to pound the strike zone and I knew he was going to start off with a fastball, too,” Mougin said. “First one was 0-2 and I wasn’t putting everything under that one, but it felt good. He finally piped another fastball and I got a hold of it. It felt nice.”
Prairie took a 5-0 lead after two innings. Pinch-runner Joe Meyer scored on an error and Viall scored on a sacrifice fly from Cal Clark, who had two RBIs.
The early lead helped the Hawks relax.
“It allows you to settle in,” Rima said. “We came out right away and for Blake Viall to have that at-bat to get us going and Copeland executing and we played our style right away.”
Despite a three-run blip in the third that saw Cedar Falls (22-19) get a two-run triple from Dakota Schiefelbein and an RBI single from Ethan Hayes, starter Darren Kilpatrick and Street limited the Tigers offense. They combined for a four-hitter.
Kilpatrick retired the first six batters in order before running into trouble in the third. He finished the frame and then Street took over the rest of the way. Street was ready to take the mound when his number was called, albeit earlier than he expected.
“I just wanted to get to state,” Street said. “I wanted to pitch my butt off to get to state. These guys are amazing. Our senior class is outstanding.
“The senior class really deserves it.”
Street retired four straight from the fifth to the seventh, striking out the side in the sixth, which was followed by a brief fist pump.
“I started tasting state a little bit,” Street said. “My emotions got the best of me. I was happy and I’m happy to celebrate it with these guys.”
The Hawks opened the season unranked and beat two top-10 teams in the first tournament. Now, they are the No. 1-ranked team making their first state trip since 2005.
“It’s something special,” Mougin said. “I’ve been here for four years with these guys. We knew this was a team that was going to do it. We didn’t doubt it for a second.”
The 4A state quarterfinals will be next Wednesday at Principal Park in Des Moines.
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