DES MOINES — Alburnett’s baseball team has enjoyed a fun ride this season.
The Pirates tallied 34 victories, reached the state baseball tournament for the second time in school history and made their first finals appearance. The journey hit a roadblock in perennial power Mason City Newman.
Third-ranked Alburnett earned its first state runner-up finish after an 11-1 loss in six innings to top-ranked Newman in the Class 1A championship game Saturday at Principal Park. The Knights (38-3) won their third straight title and eighth overall.
“We couldn’t quite get it done today,” Alburnett Coach Ryan Stensland said. “We just need to execute better, but we’re so proud of these guys for what they’ve accomplished this season.”
“One game doesn’t define a season. Hopefully, it will give us some motivation to get back here again.”
Many of the Pirates continued a successful school year that included a runner-up performance in their state basketball debut.
“It was a heck of a season for these guys,” Alburnett senior Keaton Parker said. “The underclassmen stepped up. We really played as a team. I’m really happy for the team (and) that we made it here.”
Newman was too much for Alburnett, scoring twice in the second thanks to a leadoff double from Jacob Schutt and the first of two RBI singles from Kyle Armour in as many innings.
Alburnett (34-6) had its chances to exchange blow for blow with the Knights and almost did.
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The bottom of the order put the Pirates on the board. Austin Stallman reached on a leadoff walk. Sam Fulk followed with a double, putting runners on second and third with none out. Kale Rose came to the plate and delivered Alburnett’s lone RBI with a single to right, cutting the deficit to 2-1.
“I tried to go deep in the count,” Rose said. “I looked for first-pitch fastball down the middle and it wasn’t there. He gave me another down the middle and I turned on it.”
Newman starter Doug Taylor buckled down immediately, getting a strikeout, popout and flyout to strand two and end the threat.
Parker and Stallman sandwiched Shane Neighbor’s one-out walk, loading the bases in the fourth while trailing 3-1. A fluke base-running mistake caught Stallman between first and second. After a brief stalemate between runners and fielders, Parker broke for home and was thrown out. Alburnett was turned away when second baseman Jack McGuire snagged Fulk’s hard liner.
The Pirates needed to capitalize on those opportunities.
“You’ve got to have them,” Stensland said. “When you get baserunners on and you have runners in scoring position with less than two outs, you’ve got to be able to cash in.
“It’s something we’ve been pretty good at this year, but give credit to Newman and Taylor, their pitcher.”
The Knights began to pull away after that. Josh Fitzgerald, who will continue his baseball career at Kirkwood Community College, belted a two-run home run over the wall in left to make it 5-1. Newman added four runs on one hit and five walks in the fifth. Newman closed it with a couple walks and scored the final run when Merritt McCardle was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.
“I don’t know how many walks we gave up today,” Stensland said. “We gave up some free bases. We didn’t execute ourselves on the bases. That is probably the difference in the game.
“The game plan is there. We just have to get a little better executing.”
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Stensland praised the seniors, noting that they started this run a couple seasons ago. The bar has been set higher now and Alburnett has plenty of talent returning.
“I’m happy with where the guys have gone and what they’re going to do in the future,” Parker said. “I think those young guys are still going to step up. They will be just fine next year.”
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