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Young Alburnett team walks off against Belle Plaine for a shot at No. 1 North Linn
TROY MILLS – Alburnett's postseason was on life support.
Not once, but twice in the final inning.
Pirates junior Ian Boline helped revive it both times, reaching on an error that scored pinch-runner Sean Neighbor for the winning run against Belle Plaine in a Class 1A District 7 semifinal Thursday night at North Linn High School.
The Pirates (23-11) return to the district finals with a 3-2 victory. They don't have a single senior on the roster that includes seven sophomores and six eighth-graders.
'The fun thing for me, the fans and the kids themselves is you continue to see them to grow,” Alburnett Coach Ryan Stensland said. 'Each night we go out we grow up a little bit, and tonight you saw that again. These guys took another step forward.
'I'm extremely proud of these guys for the spit and vinegar they showed. They didn't give up and didn't give an inch.”
Boline's heroics came on the mound first, stranding a runner on third after a leadoff double in the seventh. He prevented extra innings with the walk-off victory. He doesn't mind the pressure situations.
'I like when I'm on the mound, because I know I'll have a say in what happens,” Boline said. 'At the plate, that's the stuff you dream about when you're a little kid.
'You're up at the plate with a chance to win it is what you live for.”
Alex Huber opened the bottom of the seventh with a double over the center fielder's head and advanced to third on a misplayed sacrifice bunt by Austin Huber.
Garrett Straight came in to relieve starter Dylan Dry and appeared to thwart the rally with a pop-up and strikeout. Boline made contact with a slow hopper that was mishandled by the second baseman.
'It wasn't the prettiest thing,” Boline said. 'I knew I wanted to make them make a play.”
Boline allowed just five hits and struck out 13 batters for his fourth win. His final two strikeouts came in the seventh after a leadoff double by Trevin Straight and a sacrifice bunt placed the go-ahead run at third.
'I just tried to relax myself on the mound,” Boline said. 'Before each pitch, I took a couple deep breaths and focused on what I had to do. I happened to strike the guys out. I knew my defense would have my back, too.”
Alburnett took a 1-0 lead in the third when Reed Stallman ripped a double down the right-field line to score Nolan Ossman, a courtesy runner for Boline who singled and stole second.
Ossman's legs made an impact when he officially entered the game as a pinch runner for Stallman in the sixth when the Pirates trailed 2-1. Ossman went from first to third on Luke Smith's sacrifice, setting up a perfectly executed squeeze bunt by Hunter Caves that tied the game, 2-2.
'It worked out well where the third baseman got caught up into the play,” Stensland said. 'Nobody covered third and Nolan has great speed we can use.
'He turned the base hard. I knew we had a chance and it was going to take a good throw to get him. He made the play.”
Belle Plaine starter Fry only allowed three hits in a little more than six innings. Garrett Straight led the Plainsmen with two hits. He led off the fourth with a double and scored on Chance Baburek's sacrifice fly. His RBI single in the fifth scored Trevin Straight, who also had two hits.
Belle Plaine finished the season at 15-7.
Alburnett faces top-ranked North Linn here Saturday in the district final.
'We're ready,” Stensland said. 'We're hungry for a chance. The fun thing about this group of guys is they are hungry and feel they have a lot to prove. I think we're excited for the opportunity to be here.”
LYNX WIN PITCHERS DUEL
Top-ranked North Linn found itself on the winning end of a pitchers' duel with Tri-Rivers foe Maquoketa Valley. For the second time this season, the Lynx managed a 2-0 victory.
Lynx starter Jake Hilmer threw a complete-game shutout, striking out 13 and allowing just four hits. Hilmer improved to 10-0, edging the Wildcats' Tyson Tucker, who held the high-powered Lynx to three hits.
'It was the pitchers' duel everyone was looking for,” said North Linn Coach Travis Griffith, noting Hilmer wasn't at his best at the end of the regular season. 'When it gets to the postseason he's a different animal. You know what you're going to get. He's a competitor.
'It's nice to have a gamer like that you can give the ball.”
The Lynx improve to 39-2, breaking the school record for victories in a season. The old mark was 35 in 2015.
Ryan Miller scored both North Linn runs. He opened the third with a double and scored on Sean Boardman's sac fly. Miller walked and scored when Brad Pflughaupt reached on a two-out error in the fifth.
Miller leads the state with 76 runs and is tied for a state-best with 11 triples. Miller entered the game with a .431 batting average and .537 on-base percentage. He also has 29 extra-base hits.
'The kid is exactly what you want as a leadoff hitter,” Griffith said. 'He's having a special season.”
Zak Harbach, Trevor Elgin, Alec McDowell and Clint Krapfl each had a hit for the Wildcats (18-14).
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