116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MARSHALLTOWN — Baseball guys are a notoriously superstitious lot.
You follow the exact same routine if you win, wear the same clothes underneath your uniforms, all that kind of stuff. If you don’t, you feel like there will be some awful mojo coming your way.
So imagine how Alburnett’s players felt when assistant coach and longtime athletics bus driver Jeff Christopherson pulled up to the school to pick them up Tuesday afternoon and drive them here for their Class 1A substate final.
“We’d been riding in buses with blue seats, and Christopherson gets one with brown seats,” smiled Caden Evans, after his team’s 12-2, six-inning win over North Mahaska. “We thought that was going to be bad luck.”
Nah, not with this group. It’s the second trip to state in three years for Alburnett (28-9), which was the 1A runner-up in 2019.
The Pirates overcame giving up a pair of runs in the top of the first inning and rolled their way to next week’s state tournament in Carroll. Alburnett got those runs right back in the bottom of the first, received a very long solo home run in the third from Reed Stallman to break a tie and went on from there.
Five runs in the sixth invoked the mercy rule.
“It was really important that our bats got going,” said Stallman, a NIACC recruit who has six homers and 56 RBIs this season. “Like the last two weeks, we’ve been really hot. So we’ve just been keeping it rolling.”
Alburnett has won nine games in a row, with its lowest run output in that span being six.
“We looked a little tentative at first, I thought,” said Coach Ryan Stensland. “They came out and got two runs on us, and we were lucky not to give up more. It easily could have been 4-0. But we talked about it, that we needed to just chip away. If we get behind, we’re going to chip away. We need to work through their pitching staff if we can, just grind away, keep grinding away on those guys. Eventually, maybe we’d be able to get them to break.”
What a heroic pitching effort, too, from Alburnett’s Caden Evans, who relieved starter Hunter Caves at the start of the second inning and posted zeroes the rest of the way. Parker totaled just 12 innings this season because of a right shoulder problem and hadn’t pitched since July 8.
But he was plenty clutch here.
“I was on a pitch limit all year, and I’m kind of off it now,” said Evans, who pitched in the state title game in 2019. “Coach asked me ‘Can you give me two?’ I was like, yeah. He came around after that second inning, and I’d only thrown, like, 12 pitches or something. So he asked me ‘Do you want to go a couple more?’ I told him ‘Yeah, I want to finish the game.’”
“We originally thought he was going to be a bridge guy,” Stensland said. “Maybe get us through the second and third, then we’d have Reed coming in the last three or four innings. But Evans just said ‘Hey, I want the ball. I want to keep going’ … Great to see him pick us up and battle when we really needed it.”
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