CEDAR RAPIDS - Earlier this season, a reporter asked Iowa City West boys' tennis coach Mitch Gross about the #x201c;triple crown#x201d; of prep tennis.
At the time, Gross dismissed the thought of winning a state championship in singles, dou ... »
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DES MOINES — Solon produced an impressive run in part to good defense and solid pitching.
The Spartans beat two ranked foes and thumped the top-seeded team in the Class 3A state field. Facing fourth-seeded and 2015 state runner-up Harlan, they needed to perform well in all facets of the game.
Unfortunately, the Spartans committed five errors that helped the Cyclones record a 7-5 victory in the semifinals of the Class 3A state tournament Friday at Principal Park.
Solon’s late rally came up just short after falling into a hole midway through the game.
“We almost got back in it,” Solon Coach Keith McSweeney said. “It’s going to be really hard to beat a team like Harlan when you commit five errors. That came back to haunt us a little bit.”
Harlan was powered by a five-run fourth that gave it a lead it didn’t surrender, adding a run due to errors in the sixth.
After the Spartans took a 2-1 lead in the top half, the Cyclones answered, taking advantage of some miscues. They loaded the bases on a walk and two hit batsmen with none out. Nick Foss evened the score with an RBI single. Nolan Heese reached on a fielder’s choice to put Harlan ahead, and then a throwing error allowed two more runs to score and Dillon Sears reach second. Sears scored on Kyle Juhl’s double.
“The fourth inning was a big swing inning,” McSweeney said. “We had taken the lead. We had been playing great defense up to this point. They squared up some balls and then we gave them a couple more bases. That is tough to overcome.
“It’s going to be really hard to beat a team like Harlan when you commit five errors.”
The Spartans took their first lead in the top of the fourth. Luke Ira opened with a walk and advanced on a Patrick Maston sacrifice bunt. Ira reached third on a groundout before Dillon Drake’s two-out walk. Zach Wegmann came to the plate and drilled a double to right-center field, scoring both and giving Solon a 2-1 edge.
The Spartans were energized after the brief lead.
“We were fighting all the time,” Wegmann said. “We have confidence no matter what, but that really got us going.
“It started a little drive for us but those errors and booting the ball around killed us off. We were playing hard through the game.”
Toughness has been a trait of the Solon team this season and they showed it, chipping away at Harlan with a three-run sixth inning. Wegmann, who had two of Solon’s three hits, drove in Maston on a hard shot that handcuffed Juhl at first. Dillon Drake also had a sacrifice fly in the frame that began with an Ira base hit.
“They battled back,” McSweeney said. “They got to Principal Park when no one thought they could.
“The teams they beat coming here that any one of those teams could have not only been at Principal Park but won it. I’m very proud of our guys.”
Errors helped Harlan add a run in the sixth. Heese reached on an error and then advanced home on an overthrow to third. Ira threw five innings, allowing seven hits and five earned runs.
“We didn’t help him out a lot,” McSweeney said. “Obviously, I thought that was the difference in the game.”
The sting of the loss might take time to soothe, but it doesn’t overshadow a heck of a postseason run.
“A great season for us, getting to the semifinals,” McSweeney said. “The kids got to play two games in this park. They don’t feel it now but they are going to look back on this accomplishment and feel pretty good in a couple weeks.”
The Spartans started the postseason with a losing record and extended their win streak to five games for a 22-20 mark this season. Ira said he didn’t imagine playing in the state semifinals a month ago, but saw the team’s potential late in the season.
“We just came together,” Ira said. “We weren’t really playing well at the beginning of the season and at the end we just came together as a group. We were playing good baseball.”
Ira has hopes of a return to Principal Park. The Spartans have experience and they return the majority of a young lineup that included six sophomores, including Wegmann at designated hitter, and a freshman.
“We have high expectations,” McSweeney said. “The future looks bright.”
Harlan (29-5) advances to the 3A title game against Carlisle (33-6) Saturday at 5 p.m.
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