116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
SOLON — Cedar Rapids Xavier opened the postseason with two nail-biters.
The first was a low-scoring affair with three total runs, the next the Saints came back in their final at-bat and won in extra innings. This time, Xavier climbed in the driver’s seat and controlled the wheel.
Fourth-ranked Xavier scored two runs in three of the first four innings and led throughout a 6-3 victory over No. 7 Solon in the Class 3A Substate 5 baseball final Wednesday night at Solon Recreation and Nature Area. The Saints return to the state tournament after winning the 2019 3A title.
“We’ve been working hard all season just to get here,” Xavier starter Alex Neal said. “It’s great.”
Xavier makes its eighth state appearance. The Saints suffered an upset loss last season, so this has been in the sights of the seniors.
“These guys love baseball and put a lot of time into all year,” Xavier Coach Dan Halter said.
“We’re not done, yet, with what we wanted to do, but this was a big step. It was really important for us to get back. We have a lot of tough kids, who will compete. I’m happy and proud of them.”
The Saints (26-12) took advantage of consecutive walks in the first, leading to Myles Butkowski scoring the first run when Neal reached on an error. Brody Hoffman added an RBI single for a 2-0 lead.
Xavier doubled its total in the second. Sean Steffen led off with a walk and scored on a passed ball. Neal’s RBI single to score Butkowski made it 4-1 and gave Xavier the lead for good.
“You always want to put pressure on the other team, especially with Al going,” Halter said. “We knew if we could get a lead early that it would put pressure on them. We like our chances when we can get him some run support and a lead early.”
Neal (8-0) settled in after an uncharacteristic start, allowing a Brady Jeworrek RBI single that scored Blake Timmons and facing six batters in the first. He said he got used to the mound and was settled. Neal followed with five shutout innings, limiting Solon to three runners in scoring position during that stretch.
“Gaining the first strike really opened doors for more pitches,” Neal said. “I could break in the breaking ball and get more strikes.”
He gave up a two-run opposite field home run to left to Brett White, which trimmed the lead to three. He closed with two of his seven strikeouts, scattering eight hits.
An errant throw helped chase home two more runs in the fourth. The Saints played with more energy from the start, which was emphasized.
“We preached that in practice,” Butkowski said. “You have to get out to a good start. You can’t rely on making a comeback. It’s not always going to happen.
“I’m so happy for our guys.”
Butkowski admitted he didn’t expect to be on the field, nevertheless contribute, when he suffered multiple broken facial bones and teeth in an early-season collision with Neal. He returned in three weeks, instead of the estimated eight. He reached base three times and scored twice.
“I’m so happy to be here,” Butkowski said. “This was our goal as a team. We have to keep going because we have three more games to go.”
Solon was led by the top of its lineup. They had six of the eight hits. Timmons was 3-for-3 with a walk. White was 2-for-3 with a walk, nearly missing a home run to center in the third. Jeworrek, Carson Shive and Ben Cusick also had hits. Shive and center fielder Jackson Ryan had diving catches to help limit the Saints.
The Spartans end the season with a 29-12 mark.