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 — Cedar Rapids Prairie Coach Todd Rima expected a close, hard-fought and low-scoring game in the Hawks state opener.
He may want to consider purchasing a Powerball ticket given his recent predictions.
The top-ranked Hawks celebrated like they won the lottery when reliever Jared Street picked the potentially game-tying run off first to secure the 1-0 victory over No. 8 Davenport West in the Class 4A quarterfinals Wednesday at Principal Park. The win marks Prairie’s first at state in just two appearances.
“Right now, it’s about winning and advancing,” Rima said. “It doesn’t matter how you do it. It doesn’t matter how many runs you score. It’s about getting to the next game.
“For these guys to get to the next game, I think is huge. Huge for this program.”
The teams engaged in a pitchers duel between Falcons sophomore Clayton Nettleton and Prairie duo Darren Kilpatrick and Street. Neither team advanced a runner to third until the decisive sixth.
Blake Viall was hit by a pitch with one out. Ethan Copeland followed with his second single of the game and Cal Clark walked to load the bases, fouling two pitches with two strikes before earning the pass.
With cleanup batter Tyler Nunemaker up, Nettleton’s 0-1 pitch hit the dirt and skirted through the legs of catcher Nate Hoth. Viall raced home with the winning run.
“Our guys just fought,” Rima said. “We got an opportunity and our guys were able to take advantage of it.
“We just felt if we stuck with it that at some point we’d put together an inning.”
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Viall recognized the pitch was low on its way to the plate, enabling him to get a good jump. He said he knew it was his chance to score.
“I knew it was going to be a tough one to block,” Viall said. “I saw it go right past him and took off.”
The Hawks (36-6) received a jolt from the go-ahead run. They gained a sense that was going to be enough to reach Friday’s semifinal against Waukee (31-11).
“I think our whole team knew one run was going to win it,” Viall said. “I went in and everyone was congratulating me. It was a great feeling, because we had that sense we were going to win.”
West tried to rally in the seventh. The Falcons’ Trevor Burkhart reached base on a fielder’s choice with two outs. Burkhart stole his 4A-best 33rd base in the third, only to be tagged out when he overslid second base. He also stole a base against the Hawks in a regular contest. Rima visited the mound to remind the defense to keep an eye on him, knowing the Falcons needed to move him into scoring position. Street picked off Burkhart, who was also picked off in the first inning by Kilpatrick.
“Coach Rima said he’s going to go and vary your looks,” Street said. “The first one I just barely missed him. The second one I saw him leaning, he wanted to go and I was like ‘I got him.’ “
Street (6-1) earned the win, allowing one hit in three shutout innings of relief. Kilpatrick allowed just one hit through the first four innings. They teamed up in Prairie’s substate final as well.
“Darren and I work really well together,” Street said. “The last four games I have pitched right after him and we’ve taken wins. We feel confident. We go off each other’s vibe, especially me. He’s a great pitcher.”
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The Hawks celebrated in a mob between the mound and second base. Prairie felt the sting of missing the state tournament last season and is now in the state semifinals for the first time.
“It means a lot to us, especially the seniors,” Copeland said. “We’ve been through the lows last year and it feels good to come in and get late wins in the postseason.
“It really means a lot because all of the work we put in the off-season is paying off here.”
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