116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
SOLON — Perhaps this is the year. You keep making it to the state baseball tournament, and eventually you’ll win one.
Odds start moving in your favor.
North Linn made it six qualifications in eight years Tuesday night with a 13-3, six-inning win over Lynnville-Sully in a Class 1A substate final.
The Lynx will take a 31-2 record to Carroll next week, where they’ll face an opponent undetermined at press time. It’s been quite a boys’ athletics year for the school, which went undefeated in the regular season in football and won a state basketball championship.
North Linn has a 207-24 record in baseball since 2015, when it made it to state for the very first time.
“One through nine, we’re just battling at the plate. We’re playing good defense, and our pitchers all year have been really good for us,” said North Linn’s Austin Hilmer “We’ve been down there quite a bit, and we’re about due for a title. I feel like this year we’ve got a good team, and we could definitely go down there and win one. We just have to take it one game at a time and hope for the best.”
Lynnville-Sully (24-3) threw the first punch in this game, scoring twice in the top of the first inning on a wild pitch and two-out RBI single. But freshman starting pitcher Mason Bechen got into a groove for the Lynx, facing the minimum the rest of the way in his five-inning stint.
North Linn’s offense, meanwhile, countered with a run in the bottom of the first and six more in the second for a 7-2 lead. Corbin Woods and Trey McEnany led off the second with doubles, with Woods picking up a big two-run single later in the frame.
He went 4-for-5 with four RBIs in the game, his two-out run-scoring single in the sixth ended the game. Lynnville-Sully contributed to its own demise with three errors in the second and five in the game.
“We believed in Mason pitching. We just had to settle in,” Woods said. “After we got a run on the board, we settled down, Mason settled down as well. We played our game.”
North Linn had 14 hits, with eight of the nine guys in the batting order recording at least one. The exception (Cael Benesh) walked and scored twice.
Hilmer, named Sunday as The Gazette’s 2022 Male Athlete of the Year, had three hits and scored three times. He also stole three bases, jetting him past older brother, Jake, for the state’s all-time career stolen-base record.
Hilmer has 235 in his five-year varsity career, 68 this season.
“It means nothing at all,” Hilmer said. “I mean, I guess it’s pretty cool beating my brother. He’s got a lot of records, so to beat one of his is pretty cool. But, honestly, that doesn’t mean too much to me. I just want to go down there and win a state title. That’s my main goal right now.”
North Linn’s two losses were to Burlington Notre Dame and a 2A Dyersville Beckman team that won a substate final Tuesday night. Coach Travis Griffith said the June 7 loss to Notre Dame was a turning point for his team.
“We had a long coming-to-Jesus talk, had to go to Wapsie Valley (the next day), which was playing really well, and we went and put it on them. We turned it around,” he said. “Senior leaders make a difference. I like that Trey, Gunner (Vanourney) and Austin will call guys out. Just the other day, we had (a kid) not show up ready, and Austin Hilmer let him have it before I ever did. We’re talented, but that’s why we’re consistent like this.
“I don’t have to get involved a lot of times because we have great leaders and grinders. They’ve worked their asses off during this postseason grind. One through nine, they’re putting it in play, battling, and that’s what makes us tough to pitch to.”
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