TROY MILLS — The hottest prep baseball team in Linn County still is a member of the Tri-Rivers Conference. It’s just from a different school.
Alburnett got strong pitching from Keaton Parker in the opener and Hunter Caves out of the bullpen in the nightcap, hit the ball around and swept North Linn, 4-2 and 6-3, in a battle of top-10 teams in their respective classes Monday night.
The Pirates (21-4), ranked sixth in Class 1A, have won nine games in a row and 17 of 18. North Linn (29-3), No. 2 in 2A, had a 24-game win streak snapped.
“That’s nuts,” Caves said. “I’ve never swept North Linn in my life. It’s a good feeling right now. Just keep it going.”
“It’s huge for our program,” said Alburnett Coach Ryan Stensland. “I’m so proud of these guys for the effort they have been putting in every day. I think tonight we came in and put together two complete games.”
Parker outdueled North Linn’s Jake Hilmer in the first game, allowing just three hits, not walking anyone and striking out 12 in a complete-game beauty that took just under 100 pitches. One of the runs charged against him was unearned.
Hilmer, Iowa’s all-time winningest pitcher, took a rare loss, as a three-run third inning for Alburnett turned out to be the difference. Austin Huber had a huge two-run single in the frame, and Parker helped his own cause with an RBI double.
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“I knew their one through four hitters could get to the wall,” said Parker, who improved his season record to 5-2. “They are all fast guys, too. The bottom of the order, I had to go at them and keep my pitch count low.”
Alburnett jumped on starting pitcher Austin Hilmer in Game 2, scoring twice each in the first and second innings and never looking back. Huber and Parker again had big run-scoring hits in the first.
Caves relieved starter Caden Evans with two on and none out in the third, got out of that jam and finished things up with five innings of shutout ball.
“I got told to throw strikes. That’s what I tried to do,” Caves said. “Make the defense work, and they came through.”
North Linn is a banged-up baseball team, as starting infielder Parker Bechen missed the twinbill with a nagging hip-flexor injury. Starting infielder and No. 2 pitcher Trevor Boge, who came into Monday second in the state in RBIs, sprained his left knee hitting first base awkwardly on a close play late in the first game and didn’t play in Game 2.
North Linn Coach Travis Griffith said the hope is Boge will be able to return for the postseason, though there are no guarantees.
“Our (shortcomings) as a team have been masked by great pitching,” Griffith said. “Tonight, they hit our great pitching. They were the better team tonight, without question.”
Ironically, Alburnett now needs North Linn to sweep Calamus-Wheatland to get a share of the Tri-Rivers Conference championship. Those teams play Thursday.
Calamus-Wheatland is 20-0 in the league, Alburnett 18-2.
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