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DES MOINES — The Solon Spartans were down to their final bullet, and they gave it their best shot.
Waverly-Shell Rock dodged the final threat.
Reliever Dan Stensland ended Solon’s seventh-inning bases-loaded rally, sealing the top-seeded Go-Hawks 3-1 win in the Class 3A quarterfinals of the Iowa High School Athletic Association state baseball tournament Tuesday at Principal Park.
The Spartans (23-16) scored its run during their final at-bat and had the go-ahead run on first after Nate Hawkins walked and consecutive singles from Lucas Kane and Logan Linderbaum. Waverly-Shell Rock avoided further damage, symbolizing Solon’s day that included 10 runners left on base.
“We fought for our lives and that is all you can ask for,” Solon senior Lucas Kane said. “We just couldn’t string base hits together in the beginning.”
The lone Solon run came when Kane’s single drove in twin brother, Elijah Kane, who reached on a two-out error in the seventh. The Spartans had plenty of opportunities, getting two on in the first, third and fifth innings and at least one base runner each inning. The right hit at the right time eluded them.
“Our goal coming in was to put pressure on them,” Solon Coach Keith McSweeney said. “We did that virtually every inning except for maybe one or two. We just couldn’t come up with that big hit in the early innings.”
The comeback came a little too late and fell just a little short. McSweeney said the relaxed Spartans needed to take advantage of early opportunities when the Go-Hawks seemed tight.
“You can’t really wait until two outs in the seventh,” McSweeney said. “You’re not giving yourself enough time.”
Stensland, who faced one batter for his second save of the season, provided the Go-Hawks with the key hit Solon couldn’t muster. He had a two-run single, scoring winning pitcher Sean Westendorf and Jentry Miller.
Stensland, who will play basketball at Iowa State next year, also had a hand in preventing the Solon hit and run total from being hire with his defense at third base. With runners on first and third and one out in the fifth, Stensland stabbed a shot and started a third-to-second to-first inning-ending double play.
Waverly-Shell Rock Coach Casey Klunder said nothing rattles Stensland and that his success stems from his competitive nature.
“He likes to do it for his teammates,” Klunder said. “He’s a team guy first.”
Solon starter Mitch Silberstein and the defense behind him kept the Spartans within striking distance late. He gave up eight hits, but just two earned runs. An error led to the third Go-Hawk run in the sixth. Silberstein did all he needed to help the Spartans advance.
“He was very effective,” McSweeney said. “We just couldn’t get him the support at the plate.”
McSweeney said the Spartans have come a long way since mid-June, accepting the challenges to be more focused in the postseason. There was some solace in reaching the state tournament.
“It is a great honor,” said Lucas Kane, who was a freshman when Solon won the 2011 3A state crown. “It’s awesome to be on this field again (representing) Solon.”
Waverly-Shell Rock (36-3) earned its first state tournament win, advancing to Friday’s semifinal. They had to overcome tough tests, needing a final-inning come-from-behind win against Decorah in districts. They beat fourth-ranked West Delaware in the substate final.
“I thought our guys played looser today than I expected them to, because they’ve been through the wars …” Klunder said, “Our guys came down here and I thought they played loose and hard.”
The 4A quarterfinals will conclude the opening round Wednesday. Fourth-seeded Iowa City West (32-9) takes on West Des Moines Dowling (29-10) at 2 p.m. Third-seeded Cedar Rapids Kennedy (31-6) plays Southeast Polk (29-13) at 8 p.m.
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