Jefferson has handled season's curveballs

J-Hawks host Prairie in substate opener

CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids Jefferson has seen its share of curveballs this season.

The J-Hawks haven’t stopped swinging away at them, posting a strong regular season.

With injuries, weather damaging its baseball diamond and school and a need for a temporary before returning to their home field without lights for night games, Jefferson begins the postseason, hosting Cedar Rapids Prairie. The J-Hawks and Hawks will face off Friday in an Iowa High School Athletic Association Class 4A substate game, beginning at 5 p.m.

The players rallied around each other and produced on the field.

“A lot of the senior leadership has come into play,” Second-year Jefferson Coach Kyle Rodenkirk said. “As much adversity as we have went through this season, the kids have really competed well together.”

The J-Hawks have had a tremendous turnaround from last season, going 23-14-1, tallying the most wins since 2010. A win Friday will double last year’s win total, despite the trials of the season.

Good chemistry and shared goals powered Jefferson to persevere.

“Everyone wants the same thing on this team,” Jefferson shortstop Lucas Larson said. “It helped us keep everything going and playing hard.”

The results were not always positive, losing six straight including three by at least 10 runs. Resolve and hard work led to five wins in the last seven games, highlighted by a come-from-behind victory over third-ranked Cedar Rapids Kennedy.

“Everyone put in the extra work and gotten back on track,” said Larson, who hit a winning walk-off home run against the Cougars. “We’re back where we were at and we’re still working to get a little bit better.”

Prairie (14-21) and Jefferson split two previous matchups. Rodenkirk said neither team played their best in the previous contests. The Hawks have good hitters that put the ball in play and have capable pitchers, who shut out Jefferson the first time they played this season.

“I think it is going to be a dogfight,” Rodenkirk said. “I always tell the guys the first substate is the toughest, because you have to get that momentum going. I think it will be a great game.”

Third-ranked Kennedy (29-5) hosts Pleasant Valley (13-24) and Iowa City West (30-9) hosts Iowa City High (12-28) in other substate games. Linn-Mar (16-19) heads to Davenport West (25-6), while Cedar Rapids Washington (12-20) travels to Burlington (20-15). All those games begin at 7 p.m.

In 3A, Cedar Rapids Xavier (22-17) and Marion (22-15) travel to Epworth for district semifinals. Marion opens against Dubuque Wahlert (19-20) at 5 p.m. The Saints face Western Dubuque (17-19), starting at 7 p.m.

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