CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids Washington was the walking wounded earlier this month.
A little more than a week before the postseason, the Warriors played a doubleheader with just 10 available players due to injuries and illness. They were down a two-time all-stater, another starting infielder and a starting outfielder. Another had to play despite feeling under the weather.
The Warriors remained confident about another strong substate showing.
“The coaching staff and players still believed,” Washington Coach Scott Brune said. “We’re a pretty deep team and have talent. We don’t have a ton of guys but we’ve got talent. We believed the next guy in would get the job done and they have all year.”
Despite the late adversity, the Warriors are back in the substate finals. Washington travels to fourth-ranked Iowa City West for the Class 4A Substate 6 final Wednesday night.
Washington reached the state quarterfinals, losing to West last year. Regardless of who was in the lineup, they had the same goals and now they have earned a shot at a second straight state berth, which would be the program’s eighth overall.
“This has been our goal all year,” Washington senior Nick Nading said. “Injuries aren’t going to change that. No matter who we put out there it is Warrior baseball and we’re going to get outs, get runs and win games.”
Brune stopped short of saying that the adversity was a blessing in disguise. He did mention that it allowed for some players to gain experience. Brune said they took advantage of the opportunities to assume a role and contribute.
The Warriors had faith in each other.
“Anyone can go out there and they can make the plays,” senior Nolan Cavanaugh said. “We have trust in them.”
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Washington has had a knack of finding a way to win, especially in the postseason. The Warriors were outhit in the substate opener against Davenport North and won, 4-2. Washington trailed Cedar Rapids Jefferson on the road, stranding 11 total runners and notched a 5-3 victory.
“I think it shows how mature our team is,” said Washington senior Bockenstedt, who earned the first-round victory and has played multiple positions to fill voids. “When one guy goes out, the next one is in.
“We find ways to get runs in any way possible.”
The biggest shoes to fill came when Brady Bunten, one of the state’s top hitters and an all-state second baseman, suffered a knee injury. He was expected to miss the season, but served as a pinch-hitter and reached on an error Monday against the J-Hawks. Bunten hadn’t played since June 19.
“He’s been cleared to hit,” Brune said. “He’s a great teammate, even though he can’t step out on the field. It’s good to have him back.”
Junior Matyk Hilton had to replace the SIU-Edwardsville signee. He has handled the daunting task and had a key RBI single against North. He scored and made seven defensive plays at second base.
“I was kind of nervous at first,” Hilton said. “You just have to accept it and just show out.”
The substate final marks the third game between Washington (24-17) and West (30-10). They split a doubleheader June 1.
“They are probably going to pitch their ace (Braden Houston),” Cavanaugh said. “We played them before. We’re excited.”
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Third-ranked Cedar Rapids Prairie will host a substate final with a chance for a third consecutive trip to state, which included winning the 2016 state crown. Prairie (31-8) takes on Western Dubuque (32-9). Prairie, the Mississippi Valley Conference Valley Division champion, has won 11 straight games.
Iowa City High (24-17) returns to the substate finals for the second straight season. The Little Hawks travel to second-seeded Marshalltown (19-18) in a substate that witnessed the biggest upset in the class when Waterloo West knocked off top-seeded and fifth-ranked Southeast Polk.
City High defeated Waterloo West, 11-1, in the semifinals and is vying for its sixth overall state berth and first since 2003.
In 3A, fifth-ranked Solon will look for its second state berth in the last three seasons and third since 2014. The Spartans (31-10) have scored 32 runs in two district games and host Fairfield (30-8).
Eighth-ranked West Delaware advanced to the 3A Substate 3 final in a thriller over No. 10 Decorah. The Hawks (26-10) face their second straight ranked foe, playing at No. 7 Waverly-Shell Rock (32-7). West Delaware is attempting to reach the state tournament for the first time since 2008.
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