Prep Baseball

Iowa City Liberty notches baseball program's first victory

Prep Notes: Lightning led by young talent; Linn-Mar's big rally; Regina reloads

Iowa City Liberty Lightning
Iowa City Liberty Lightning
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Iowa City Liberty has experienced plenty of firsts in its inaugural school year, opening the doors in August.

The Lightning baseball team added to the list of milestones.

Liberty claimed the baseball program’s first varsity victory, sweeping Burlington Notre Dame on Tuesday at Mount Mercy’s Robert W. Plaster Athletic Complex in Cedar Rapids. The Lightning defeated the Nikes, 14-2 and 19-0, in five and four innings, respectively.

“Our guys competed well,” Liberty Coach Tom Cronk said. “It was fun. We hit the ball well up and down the lineup. Our pitchers threw strikes.”

Starter Keian Secrist recorded the first win, allowing one unearned run on two hits over four innings. He struck out six.

The Lightning rapped 18 hits. Tyler Dahm, Tyler White and Isaac Bender each went 3-for-3 with three runs. Bender had two RBIs. Sam Funke added two hits and five RBIs for Liberty in the opener.

In the nightcap, Ethan O’Donnell and Cayden DuHaime combined for a no-hitter. A lengthy rain delay prevented O’Donnell from throwing more than two innings.

Bender, Nolan Frey, T.J. Kimm and Max Tafolla had two hits apiece in the second game. Kimm and Bender each had three RBIs.

Dahm, Funke, Bender and Frey are among the core of skilled sophomores, setting the foundation.

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“Our sophomores have a chance to be really good offensively,” Cronk said. “Those four are baseball guys. They love it.”

Players took the achievement in stride. They have witnessed initial victories for other programs throughout the last 10 months. The novelty is transitioning to expectation. The Lightning have bigger goals than a regular-season win. They want to match that in the postseason, like the girls’ soccer team.

“Our idea is we want to get better every day and we want to be playing our best at the end of the year,” Cronk said. “We have a different mindset.”

Even though the roster consists of about 17 players with no seniors and just three juniors, Liberty doesn’t have to wait for success.

“We’re young and talented,” Cronk said. “Our guys want to compete.”

The Lightning have had to secure homes away from home. The school’s baseball diamond will not be completed for this season. According to Cronk, the hope is to have it ready for use next season. Liberty has arranged for its home games to be played at Mount Mercy and University of Iowa.

Cronk praised Mount Mercy and Mustangs baseball coach Jack Dahm for their efforts. Liberty will host its first game at Duane Banks Field on Friday against Tipton. Cronk was set on playing at quality ballparks.

“It’s a little weird to have to play a home game and ride a bus back,” Cronk said. “It is a little inconvenient, but to play at a first-class facility is fantastic.”

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Liberty is a Class 3A program. Cronk said he expects the program to be 4A next season, which will be its first season in the Mississippi Valley Conference. He has already began to prepare his players for the rigors of the conference, which has three ranked teams and a fourth receiving votes.

“We’re playing a lot of 4A schools,” Cronk said. “I want our guys to know what it’s like in the Valley.”

Linn-Mar Lions claw back

Linn-Mar earned a doubleheader split with Class 4A sixth-ranked Cedar Rapids Prairie at home Monday. The Lions dropped the opener but stormed back for a 14-13 victory in the nightcap.

The way things unfolded was even more impressive than the result. Linn-Mar trailed by six runs in the bottom of the sixth. The Lions tallied eight runs to take their first lead of the 14-inning twinbill.

Alex Greene hit a pinch-hit grand slam and Michael Weiss added a pinch-hit home run during the decisive frame. Cody Suther finished with two hits, including a double, and an RBI for Linn-Mar.

“Just a crazy inning where we had some guys step up,” first-year Linn-Mar head coach Kyle Rodenkirk said. “Everything had to happen perfectly and it did. It was good to see the boys believe in the process and have fun with it. Prairie is a great ballclub.”

The comeback was a team effort. Twelve Lions had official at-bats, while two more courtesy runners scored in the game. Linn-Mar used four pitchers, including reliever Cole Wright, who got the win, and closer Dan Coughlin. Coy Sarsfield and Josh Hilsenbeck scored three times apiece for the Lions.

Linn-Mar has won four of its last five games, improving to 8-6.

Regina Regals reload

Iowa City Regina returned everyone on the roster from last year’s state semifinal team, including 10 with starting experience. The Class 2A third-ranked Regals are 8-2 with their only losses to 3A No. 6 Solon and North Scott, which received votes in 4A.

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Regina also owns a doubleheader sweep of top-ranked Wilton, winning 8-4 and 4-0 on the road Monday.

“We play some really good teams,” Regina Coach Jeff Pacha said. “The main thing we’re focused on is to play the game the right way. It doesn’t matter who we play. We’re trying to go out there and play our game, which is to bring energy, see some pitches, throw strikes and field the baseball.

“We’ve done a really good job of trying to be consistent on a nightly basis.”

The Regals fell to eventual state champion Dyersville Beckman last season. The experience motivated them to put more time in the gym and weight room, getting extra swings to get two more wins and finish the job.

“We got a taste of it last year,” Regina senior Ryne Schooley said. “We were in the environment.

“Getting that taste of it is really going to help us. I think we all have one goal in mind. We’re really trying to go for it.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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