MARION — The rematch was a repeat in the winner department.
Alburnett earned its second trip to the state baseball tournament Tuesday night by knocking off HLV, 4-2, in a fine Class 1A substate final. Make that earned a trip to state by knocking off HLV again.
The teams met in June in the regular season, with Alburnett winning an offensive affair, 13-7. This was not that game by a longshot, except for the team that came out ahead.
“You remember Johnny Orr at Iowa State?” asked Alburnett Coach Ryan Stensland. “Remember when they’d used to get in those barnburners, and he’d say ‘Woo wee, that was a dinger.’ That’s kind of what it felt like tonight.”
Alburnett (32-5) will play either Friday or Saturday in a 1A quarterfinal at Principal Park in Des Moines. Coaches seed the state tournament and will meet to hash that out Wednesday.
Expect the Pirates to end up somewhere in the 2-to-3 seed range.
“We’ve been working towards this all season,” said Alburnett’s Austin Stallman. “This was a good team win.”
Alburnett also made it to state in 2006. It lost in the substate finals last year to Don Bosco, meaning this win was a relief of sorts.
You could tell there was some general tightness from the Pirates in the early going here. HLV (25-4) took advantage of a pair of first-inning errors for a 1-0 lead.
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A solo home run down the right-field line by Kody Timm put the Warriors on top in the third, 2-1.
“We haven’t come out like that in big games this year,” said Alburnett Coach Ryan Stensland. “These guys have been here before, so I was a little surprised. But they knew what was at stake. It’s like I told them, somebody put a number on us this year. We’re going to be the third-ranked team in the state. We had to go through some growing pains with that. I told them that very rarely do teams like that, that have expectations like that from day one, make it. They fought through that tonight, have fought through it the whole season.”
Winning pitcher Keaton Parker put his club ahead for good in the bottom of the third with a two-run single up the middle. Hunter Caves and Austin Huber led off with walks against HLV ace Brody Wolf, with Reed Stallman sacrifice bunting them up a base.
Stallman is Alburnett's third-place hitter and led the team with a .474 average coming into the game.
“Reed told me before the game that if runners were on first and second, ‘I’m bunting them over, and I want you to clean them up,’” Parker said. “That’s exactly what happened.”
Parker (12-2) allowed three hits and three walks in 6 2/3 innings, having to be lifted from the game with two outs in the top of the seventh and the tying run at the plate because he had hit the 110-pitch limit. Sophomore Caden Evans relieved him and struck out Brendan Wood to end it.
“We’ve been here before, we had a lot of expectations from the community, so I think we were all a little nervous,” Parker said. “But coach always says you can’t fear failure. You’ve got to go out and do your thing.”
Which the Pirates did.
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