116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
TROY MILLS — The game ball was placed in Tony Offerman’s hand to start the district final.
When Maquoketa Valley broke its postgame huddle, he held it in his right hand after being awarded it by his coaches.
He plans to display it prominently.
“In my cupboard,” Offerman said. “Set it somewhere everybody can see it, I guess.”
Offerman pitched a complete-game shutout and led the Wildcats to a 1-0 victory over second-ranked North Linn in the Class 1A District 5 final Saturday night at North Linn. Maquoketa Valley advances to the substate final against Lisbon (24-13) Tuesday at Solon.
The Wildcats (22-7) earned their first win over North Linn since 2015.
“It feels amazing,” Offerman said, “being beat by these guys every year throughout our high school career just to get one on them.”
Offerman entered the game with a 5-1 record and 63 strikeouts in 43 innings pitched with a 3.05 earned-run average. His calm demeanor, poise and his pitch command made him the right guy for the job.
“Everything had to go our way,” Maquoketa Valley Coach Mike Cook said. “That’s one of the best teams in the state, no doubt. You’re going to have to play that well just to have a chance to win.
“I liked that we had Tony on the mound. He’s a strike thrower. He’s going to force them to hit and he did. We made some good plays behind him.”
Offerman maintained a simple approach. He was concerned with throwing strikes and inducing contact. Sometimes that can be dangerous against the Lynx, but he limited them to just five hits. North Linn never had multiple baserunners in an inning. It only managed to reach scoring position three times and only once with less than two out.
“I threw it in the zone,” Offerman said. “I let my teammates do the rest.
“I didn’t do too much. I didn’t strike out too many guys. I just threw it in there, let them hit the ball and it worked out.”
The Wildcats played error-free defense, including two running grabs and a diving catch from center fielder Parker Sternhagen. Shortstop T.J. Cook turned an inning-ending double play in the fourth. Mike Cook also praised the play of third baseman Preston Roling.
“We’ve worked hard,” Mike Cook said. “They’ve probably worked harder this summer at baseball than they were aware of.
“If you’ve got guys that can throw strikes and guys that can play a little defense, you can keep yourself in games.”
North Linn threatened a couple times late. The Wildcats seemed to struggle in the sixth, throwing the ball around the infield between pitches. The elder Cook visited the mound and it appeared to calm Offerman and the defense.
“I said it’s time to be a senior, I patted him on the head and walked off,” Mike Cook said. “He did it. He stepped back in (and) got his focus back. He wasn’t as good as he’s been tonight as sometimes, but he battled.”
The only run of the game came in the top of the fourth. Roling led off with a walk and reached second on a wild pitch. After two strikeouts, Nathan Beitz stepped to the plate and delivered an RBI single up the middle to drive in Roling. Beitz sighed with relief at first base.
“I just saw a big, fat fastball is all,” Beitz said. “I was a little nervous at first. I calmed down a little bit and just put it in play.”
North Linn (34-6) was unable to convert the opportunities it did have, especially in the seventh. Alex Sturbaum doubled to lead off the third. Offerman produced a strikeout, soft lineout and a groundball to end it.
Mason Bechen had two hits to lead the Lynx, who had reached state each of the last four seasons. Austin Hilmer pitched a complete game for the Lynx, allowing one run on just four hits. He struck out nine.
Maquoketa Valley sits a victory away from its first state tournament berth.
“Unbelievable,” Offerman said. “I couldn’t be more excited.”