DES MOINES — South Winneshiek baseball coach Alex Smith’s voice cracked slightly that caused him to pause.
He quickly continued to share the impact of five seniors that couldn’t be expressed in 54 total victories and the school’s first back-to-back trips to the state baseball tournament. It won’t be defined by one result either.
“It’s a tremendous group that loves playing baseball,” Smith said. “I look around the field and see all the little kids here that aspire to play as well. So, it’s a great group.
“We’re going to miss those seniors. They set their mark that baseball at South Winn is a program, not a team. We’ll never base our success on one game. We’re going to hold our heads high, be proud of the accomplishments we had and walk away knowing we did great things this season. There are good things to come.”
The Warriors came up a little short of their first state victory. Don Bosco’s Lewis Havel struck out 11 batters and helped himself with a two-run double to power the fifth-seeded Dons to a 3-1 win over No. 4-seed South Winn in the Class 1A quarterfinals Friday at Principal Park.
“We knew coming in it was going to be a low-scoring game,” Smith said. “Havel is an outstanding pitcher on the mound. We knew we’d have to win a low-scoring game and that’s what we ended up in.”
Don Bosco (18-1) got on the board immediately. Leadoff batter Cael Frost smacked an 0-2 pitch over the manual scoreboard in right field to open the game.
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South Winn answered in its half. Jaron Todd doubled to deep center and scored on Seth Greve’s single up the middle to tie it, 1-1.
The pitcher’s duel commenced from there. Havel and Warriors starter Ethan Luzum stymied hitters through the fourth. Havel retired nine of 10 batters, including seven straight between the second and fourth innings. Luzum was just as impressive, sitting down nine of 11 during the same stretch and 12 of 14 that included the final three outs of the first.
Luzum allowed six hits in six innings and struck out eight.
“He was great,” Smith said. “He commanded his fastball. He got his changeup and curveball across. He’s been a good one for us and fortunately, we’re going to have him back for another year.”
The Dons pushed across the game-winning runs in the fifth. Charlie Hogan led off with a single, which was just his third hit of the season. After an errant pickoff throw allowed him to reach third, Frost was intentionally walked. He advanced to second before Havel’s shot to the right center field gap.
Havel retired the final six batters, striking out the side in the seventh and tallying six strikeouts in the final three innings.
“I thought our bats could have been better,” said Todd, who finished 2-for-3. “We played hard defensively and executed when we wanted. Just didn’t have our number in the end.
“We didn’t get too many back-to-back hits to get us in scoring position.”
The Warriors had their chances. They ran into a pair of outs in the opening frame — a runner thrown out at the plate and the third out on a runner caught stealing at third.
“We want to be aggressive as a program,” Smith said. “That’s been a trend for us. We run the bases extremely aggressive, but we also want to be disciplined and unfortunately that one didn’t go as we would have it planned.”
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In addition to the first, South Winn stranded runners in scoring position in three innings. The Warriors just weren’t able to get that timely hit when it was needed, even though they nearly matched Don Bosco’s output.
“We hit the ball,” Greve said. “It just didn’t go where we wanted it to go most of the time. That’s baseball. Today just wasn’t our day.”
South Winn concluded its season with a 25-2 record, winning a second straight Upper Iowa Conference title. The Warriors made just their third state trip overall in an eight-team field that was a combined 154-13.
“It was a great experience,” Greve said. “I think we’re proud of ourselves to make it back.
“We knew last year, when we went down, we didn’t have a senior in the lineup, so we knew we had a good shot at making it back. I think we improved a lot since last year but Class 1A is tough to win. Each game could go either way.”
Don Bosco will advance to Thursday’s semifinal against eighth-seeded Kingsley-Pierson (16-2). The Panthers knocked off No. 1 Martensdale-St. Marys, 3-2, in eight innings to open the tournament.
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