Jason Strunk's walk-off homer puts Iowa City West in state title game
Freshman delivers three-run shot in 6-5 win over Des Moines Roosevelt
Iowa City West's Jason Strunk (24) celebrates on his way to the plate after hitting a 3-run walk-off home run against Des Moines Roosevelt in a Class 4A semifinal at the 2016 state baseball tournament at Principal Park in Des Moines on Friday, July 29, 2016. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
DES MOINES — Jason Strunk is not your typical freshman.
Iowa City West’s 6-foot, 220-pound designated hitter is bigger and stronger than most his age.
He is a lot more clutch than most freshmen as well.
With West down to its final out, Strunk belted a three-run home run over the left-center field wall, helping the second-seeded Trojans to a 6-5 win over third-seeded Des Moines Roosevelt in the Class 4A state semifinals Friday night at Principal Park.
The blast sent West to its third straight title game, facing top-ranked Cedar Rapids Prairie in an all-Mississippi Valley Conference final, starting at 7:30 p.m.
Strunk has been in similar situations, but admitted none were this intense.
“It’s amazing,” Strunk said. “I’m still in shock. I’m all smiles right now. I’m just happy and excited.”
The Trojans celebrated on the field. Spencer Wiskus had a walk-off hit in the bottom of the seventh in a 4-3 quarterfinal win over Cedar Rapids Jefferson. They could make things less dramatic for West Coach Charlie Stumpff.
“It wouldn’t be so fun if that was the case,” Stumpff said. “I’m speechless. I have nothing. I’ve never seen anything like this in my career.
“All you can say is wow. That’s crazy.”
Strunk contributed to the Trojans' two-run second for a 2-0 lead, hitting a single and then stealing home on a failed pickoff attempt of Nate Disterhoft at first. Strunk struggled against reliever John Swanda, who stifled West for the better part of five innings.
Strunk struck out and grounded out in his past two at-bats and started in an 0-1 hole. He snapped out of it and powered the Trojans to their fifth championship game since 2009.
“He was smoking me all night with the fastball, so I just thought fastball, fastball, fastball,” Strunk said. “Izaya (Ono-Fullard) and all my teammates were saying he is going to try and throw it by you, and I got a hold of one.”
Strunk said it was the best he ever felt a ball jump from his bat. West junior Connor McCaffery, who matched Strunk with a team-high two hits, was confident the underclassman would be clutch.
“I had never seen anything like that,” McCaffery said. “That ball was absolutely tattooed. It looked like a rocket off his bat.”
West (35-6) was on the ropes after Roosevelt broke things open with a three-run sixth. Zach Lin’s RBI double and a two-run double from Jake Smith gave the Roughriders (33-11) a 5-2 lead in the sixth.
West chipped away with one in the sixth, getting an RBI double from Dane Randall that scored Disterhoft.
Ono-Fullard opened the seventh, hustling down the line to beat a throw when the second baseman mishandled a grounder. Wiskus walked to set up Strunk’s heroics.
“It’s a testament to those guys,” West Coach Charlie Stumpff said. “They just keep playing.”
Roosevelt tied it in the top of the third, receiving an RBI triple from Swanda, who scored on Stephen Loew’s sacrifice fly. Swanda and Lin scored two runs apiece.
West will face Prairie (37-6) in a rematch of last year’s substate final won by the Trojans. The teams split a regular-season doubleheader at West. Both teams are looking for their first state baseball title.
“We’re excited,” McCaffery said. “We’ve been hoping to get to this game the whole year. It’s been our goal.”