116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Having absolutely nothing going offensively and facing a two-run deficit with just six outs left to play with, it appeared this was going to be a bitter substate final loss for Cedar Rapids Prairie’s baseball team.
Make that another bitter substate final loss for the Hawks, who fell in this game the previous three seasons.
But just like that it all changed. Four runs in the bottom of the sixth inning turned those frowns upside down and allowed seventh-ranked Prairie to beat Cedar Falls, 4-2, Wednesday night in a Class 4A substate final thriller.
“Usually it just starts with one dude getting on base,” said Prairie’s Nate Keiper. “It’s like then everybody follows suit, everybody gets hot. Even if it’s just one hit, we just needed that leadoff runner.”
Caden Harrison was that leadoff runner, taking a four-pitch walk from Cedar Falls pitcher Zach Neese, who had done a phenomenal job stifling a Prairie team that hits over .300 combined. Cal Sullivan first-to-thirded Harrison with a single up the middle, then Brandon Vlcko did the same thing with a RBI single to center.
The momentum, she had officially turned.
“All season we’ve been a hit-to-hit team,” Vlcko said. “Once you get the first one, the second one comes, the third one. We’ve just done a really good of picking up each other. It came down to who was going to get that first one for us, who was going to start it.”
Keiper then smashed a two-run double up the gap and to the fence in left-center to suddenly put Prairie on top. A two-out Caden Richards single to center scored Keiper.
Two hits the first five innings, but five here.
“(Neese) didn’t give us anything. That pitcher did a phenomenal job,” said Prairie Coach James Nelson. “Everything was going against us, and their pitcher was rolling. I will say, I know it’s cliché to say, but our guys were still in good spirits. They didn’t hang their heads, they were still positive in the dugout. Actually, right before that inning, they were like ‘OK, let’s go. Let’s do it right now. Let’s enjoy this. This is the moment.’ The energy was there.”
Ryan Barnes struck out the side in the top of the seventh for Prairie, and a prodigious dogpile on the pitcher’s mound ensued. Barnes got the win, retiring all four hitters he faced in relief of starter Jackson Nove.
Prairie swept Cedar Falls (18-21) in a regular-season doubleheader, including a 10-run mercy rule win in one of those games. The Hawks will play next week against an opponent to be determined in the 4A state tournament at Banks Field in Iowa City.
“Super happy for them,” Nelson said. “They’ve been locked in on this all year.”
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