Young North Linn team continues success

West Delaware's Wright hits first homer; Raiders produce big performances

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TROY MILLS — North Linn had a banner baseball season last year.

The young Lynx reached the state tournament for the first time in school history, advancing to the semifinals and winning a school-record 35 games.

Without a senior on the 15-player roster, Class 1A sixth-ranked North Linn has continued its success from a year ago. The Lynx have a chance to secure sole possession of a Tri-Rivers Conference title with a victory Thursday in a doubleheader against Central City.

North Linn hasn’t won a conference crown since 2005, according to Lynx Coach Travis Griffith. The conference goal has been a priority.

“It has been a while since we’ve won it,” said Griffith, estimating the Lynx have had at least seven runner-up finishes. “It was time to get over the hump. Really, our only focus is we wanted to win the conference.

“It’s a tough conference to win. Our consistency has helped us.”

North Linn faced highly-ranked non-conference teams. Jake Hilmer, Ryan Miller and Logan Novak are a combined 16-2 in conference, but Griffith has limited their innings against other foes. Hilmer, an all-stater last season as an eighth-grader, is 9-0 overall with a 0.68 earned-run average. Miller and Novak are both 5-2, including 4-1 conference marks.

The pitching staff is deeper than last season.

“Right now, we’re playing well,” Griffith said. “With our top three guys on the mound, we’re tough to beat.”

The Lynx (28-8) returned all but three players from last season. They have a similar style that has led to more than nine runs a game. The offense doesn’t have to rely on small ball as much with a more balanced lineup.

“We have nine hitters who can step in and compete,” Griffith said. “They don’t strike out a whole lot. We’ve done a lot better than I thought we would this year. We are scoring a lot more runs than I thought, but some of that is our style of play.”

North Linn hits .334 as a team with more than nine hits a game. The Lynx like to run the bases.

Griffith said Miller, Hilmer and Novak have a green light. Miller leads the state with 48 stolen bases in 50 attempts. Hilmer is seventh with 32 and Novak has 26. He said another three to four players run the bases well, testing their opponents.

“If we can put pressure on defenses, we have a pretty good chance of winning, especially with our pitching staff,” Griffith said. “We’re less powerful because we lost our three power hitters from last year.

“I think overall we have a better team. We’re better defensively. We’re a year older where it counts. I like the group we have right now.”

Conversations have revolved around conference competition and daily improvement. They have delayed talk of returning to the state tournament. A tough schedule will provide the experience need to be successful in the postseason.

The Lynx are more experienced and mature than the roster indicates, starting five sophomores and three freshmen. Griffith said they avoid the roller coasters that can come with a young team.

“It speaks volumes of the kids,” Griffith said. “They do a nice job of not having emotional ups and downs. They’re pretty levelheaded.”

WRIGHT’S BIG BLAST

West Delaware’s Kyle Wright hit his first home run of the season against Marion on Wednesday at Beckman Sport Complex in Manchester. His blast was a little more special.

Wright belted a grand slam over the center-field fence, shrinking the Indians’ 6-0 lead in the sixth inning of the nightcap. Wright had one home run last year and had never hit a grand slam.

“I was just trying to put it hard in play,” said Wright, noting it was a straight pitch over the middle of the plate. “I just happened to hit it as hard as I could.”

Wright, who was hitting .333 with 16 RBIs before the doubleheader, said he did not feel the ball jump off the bat. He said he wasn’t sure if it was high enough and it was a cool surprise when it cleared the chain-link fence.

“It was a big moment,” Wright said. “One of the biggest.”

Wright also stepped up in the seventh with bases loaded, hitting a sacrifice fly and driving in all five runs for the Hawks in the one-run loss. Wright had two hits in the opener and finished with six RBIs.

PRODUCTIVE RAIDERS

Williamsburg’s Noah Heitshusen and Vic Malloy have produced big offensive numbers, ranking among the state’s top single-game performances in triples and RBIs.

In a 19-5 victory over South Tama on Monday, Heitshusen had four hits, including four triples and tying the most in a game this season. Malloy drove in eight runs, which also is tied for most RBIs in a game for all classes. Malloy also had four hits with three doubles. They scored four runs apiece.

The Raiders are 21-11 overall, leading the Wamac West with an 18-6 conference mark. Williamsburg hosts sixth-ranked West Delaware on Friday.

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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