INDEPENDENCE - For Independence, the prep football season opener bore little resemblance to its winless 2016 campaign.
Even in defeat, a clear message was sent that there are brighter days ahead for the Mustangs.
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DES MOINES — Conner Klostermann deserves a big thumb’s up.
The Dyersville Beckman junior returned from a broken thumb that was expected to sideline him the rest of the season. He helped the Blazers take a step closer to a third straight state title.
Klostermann had three hits and two RBIs in third-seeded Beckman’s 6-3 victory over Hinton in the Iowa High School Athletic Association Class 2A state baseball quarterfinals Monday night at Principal Park.
Klostermann broke the joint near the top of his right thumb, fielding a groundball during a doubleheader at Mount Vernon on July 9. Within three weeks, he was a home run short of hitting for the cycle on the biggest stage.
“It feels great to get back out here,” Klostermann said. “I knew in the time I was out that my teammates would come through, and they did absolutely. It just feels great to be back out here.”
The night of the injury included a visit to the emergency room with severe pain and swelling. He broke the same thumb during football, having surgery and screws implanted to repair it.
The prognosis was unfavorable, but he continued to play catch and work through it. The view from the dugout was not as enjoyable as the one from his spot at third base or the mound.
“I was pretty upset,” Klostermann said. “It was a real down time for me.”
He missed 10 days, getting cleared to come back for a district final against ninth-ranked rival Cascade. Klostermann received word he was cleared during a workout and couldn’t contain his emotion.
“It was exhilarating,” Klostermann said. “I got it when we were at practice and I ran around showing it to everybody.”
Beckman relied on its “next man in” mentality. The Blazers welcomed back their No. 3-hole hitter.
“Fortunately for us, it wasn’t as bad as everybody thought originally,” Jenk said. “He’s a tough kid and he made it back for us. He’ll be ready to go Thursday or Saturday.”
The Blazers (28-13) reached Thursday’s semifinal thanks to a big four-run second inning that erased a 1-0 Hinton lead. Beckman rolled with the bats, getting three straight singles from Taylor Knepper, Ben Loeffelholz and Eric Boeckenstedt, who finished with two hits. The bigger blows came from Tony Anstoetter and Klostermann, who had back-to-back doubles.
Anstoetter drove in two, putting Beckman up, 3-1, and then scored on Klostermann’s double that landed between three Hinton defenders in right field.
“I just wanted to do something for the team,” Anstoetter said. “I knew I was going to hit the ball at that point.”
Anstoetter provided a boost before picking up a bat that inning. Hinton looked to add to its lead with two on and two out. Anstoetter made a diving catch down the left-field line, slamming head first into the bullpen mound. He carried it over to the plate.
“When somebody makes a big play like that it fires up the team,” Jenk said. “In that situation, it worked. Our outfielders have been doing that all year.”
The Blazers added two more in the sixth, getting an RBI triple from Klostermann. Liam O’Connor, pinch-running for Klostermann, scored when Logan Welling reached on an error.
Zac Lyon and Riley Vorwald combined to scatter 11 hits. Lyon gave up seven of those, allowing two runs. Jenk said Lyon was pitching well, but through Vorwald would be a better matchup.
“I thought they needed a little different look than they were getting at that time,” Jenk said. “Zac was throwing strikes, but I thought they needed a different look.”
Beckman improved to 15-1 all-time in the first round of the state tournament. The Blazers are a win shy of their 12th state finals appearance and 11th under Jenk.
“Getting that first one out of the way is really important. It really is,” Jenk said. “Throw the records out, because everyone that is down here thinks they can win otherwise they wouldn’t have shown up today.”
Beckman’s Wamac Conference counterpart Solon will compete in the 3A quarterfinals Tuesday. The Spartans (23-15) faces top-seeded and top-ranked Waverly-Shell Rock (35-2) here at noon.
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