CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids Jefferson had a victory at its fingertips.
Then, Davenport Central ripped it out of the J-Hawks' hands.
The Blue Devils were down to their final out, scoring two to force extra innings and two more the next inning for a 5-3 win in eight innings over host Jefferson in a Class 4A Substate 5 semifinal Monday night.
The final game was indicative of the J-Hawks' season.
“One strike away from that,” Jefferson Coach Kyle Rodenkirk said about ending a seventh-inning rally and advancing to the substate final at Cedar Rapids Washington. “It’s kind of the way it’s been all season. Games we have lost have been real close just like that.”
Jefferson was in control most of the game and took a 3-1 lead into the final inning. The Blue Devils received a leadoff single from Connor Hayes and a one-out base hit from Elijah Mitchell, who stole second during a strikeout to set up Andrew Hegland’s heroics.
Hegland worked the count full and then hit a chopper through the hole between shortstop and third base, scoring Hayes and Mitchell to tie the game.
“Tip your caps to them,” Rodenkirk said. “They got some timely hits there. Chase (Keeney) pitched a heck of a game. He was rolling there and got into a little bit of trouble.
“The pitch that that kid hit was six inches off the plate. He hit it where we weren’t. That is the way baseball is.”
The Blue Devils delivered again the following inning. Keith Ingrahm hit a two-run double off reliever Kane Kramer, scoring Adin DeLaRosa, who opened with a single, and Bobby Magnus, who reached on an error.
Davenport Central (15-18) won its second straight extra-inning postseason game after dropping the substate’s top seed, Western Dubuque, in the first round. The Blue Devils have matured as the season progressed.
“We’ve been steadily improving over the last month,” Central Coach Chris Cartee said. “We were pretty inexperienced coming into the season. We’ve seen some growth. This time of year it’s about fighting and staying alive. They are doing a great job of battling and not quitting. I think at the beginning of the season we’d lose games like this. Luckily, it’s been going our way.”
Jefferson was in control early, stifling the Blue Devil batters and taking a 3-0 lead in the fourth.
The J-Hawks strung together three straight two-out hits in the fourth, taking the lead on Matt Culver’s home run over the left-center field fence. Kramer and Logan Pady scored on Culver’s second career home run.
Jefferson stranded eight runners on base, leaving them loaded in the fifth. Two costly errors — one with two outs — and a balk led to the Blue Devils’ first run in the sixth.
“It’s growing pains, for sure,” Rodenkirk said. “Those are plays I’ve seen them make plenty of times throughout the season. It’s one of those things you don’t make the plays when they’re given to you.”
The loss can be a big learning experience. Brayden Frazier was part of the J-Hawk team that ended its season at home two years ago. The next season they reached the state tournament.
“You just have to take it to next season and move on,” Frazier said. “You use this as fuel for the fire next season.
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“We’ll have a good, strong senior class. We’ll have a bunch of new guys that will have to be in new roles.”
The J-Hawks finish the season 23-17. Rodenkirk said the players represented their season and school well.
“It’s a good season,” Rodenkirk said. “People weren’t really looking into us this year. They rose above it.”
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