116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — They played with the top-ranked team in Class 4A. You shouldn’t have expected anything different.
Being giant underdogs in their state tournament quarterfinal game Tuesday afternoon was nothing to these Iowa City Liberty Lightning.
What they overcame just to be the first baseball team in school history to make it to the elite eight ... yeah, trying to slay the Johnston Dragons was nothing.
“We were right there the whole game,” Liberty’s Hayden Vickroy said, after a hard-fought 6-3 loss at Banks Field. “We had the expectation that we were going to come in here, and we weren’t going to back down from anyone, especially the No. 1 team. We were going to show them we belonged here. And I feel like we did that today.”
Liberty (21-20) was under .500, but put together a week of special postseason play, beating Clinton, smashing a good Cedar Falls club and then outlasting defending champ Pleasant Valley to reach state. Owen Skelley was their guardian angel all season, watching this run from above.
A sophomore, Skelley died by suicide in March at age 15. His older brother, Boyd, was Tuesday’s starting pitcher.
“I know he thought it was fantastic,” Boyd Skelley said. “I had this feeling in my gut the entire time. The entire day before this game, even last night, I was just talking to him. I was asking him to let me throw curveballs, help me find the zone, help me make pitches that would be hard to make. I think I did that, for sure.”
Skelley did just fine, giving up two hits and a pair of runs, striking out four in six innings. Johnston (34-4) broke a 2-2 tie with three runs in the bottom of the fourth inning against the Lightning bullpen and got a solo home run in the sixth from Tyne Weeden.
Two hit by pitches and a walk loaded the bases in the seventh for Liberty, bringing the tying run to the plate. A two-out wild pitch scored a run, but a fly out ended things.
Liberty stranded 10 guys on base in the game, seven in the final three innings. Contrarily, Johnston left just one runner on base.
“We were right there,” said Liberty catcher Jack Funke. “We were one hit away, had the bases loaded, all that. That’s just how baseball goes.”
“When they got a run, we’d answer. When they’d get a couple more, we’d get one. Even when they scored their three spot in the fourth, we came back and put pressure on them in the fifth,” said Liberty Coach Tom Cronk. “That’s a big part of what we do. We want to get guys on, we want to put pressure on their defense. Unfortunately we weren’t able to get the big two-out hit, and they got a few more than we did. But I couldn’t be more proud of what our guys did and how they’ve played, especially the last two weeks.”
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