CEDAR RAPIDS — Too much early. Not enough late.
Cedar Rapids Kennedy fell into a cavernous hole immediately, scratching and clawing to give itself a chance to climb out of it. The effort came up just short.
Cedar Falls built a five-run lead in the first and then stranded eight runners over the final three innings, including the potential tying run in the seventh, to knock off the Class 4A ninth-ranked Cougars, 7-4, for the Class 4A Substate 3 title Wednesday night at Herkelman Field. The Tigers (7-1) advanced to the state baseball tournament for the second time in school history and first since 1989.
The Cougars (14-6) battled back after falling behind 7-0 in the fourth, having a chance to even the game in each of the final three innings.
“I’m super proud of our kids,” Cedar Rapids Kennedy Coach Bret Hoyer said. “I’m particularly thankful for our seniors. There is no quit in them.
“We had a chance there. We had the tying run on base in the seventh and tying run at the plate in the sixth.”
Cedar Falls sent nine batters to the plate in the first, capitalizing on three walks and a hit batsman. Brody Bartlett had an RBI single and Jaden Kramer capped the five-run burst with a two-run single.
Gage Flanscha and Drew Hoth added back-to-back RBI singles in the fourth for all the offense the Tigers needed.
Kennedy started to chip away in the bottom of the fourth with a solo home run from Dylan Davis. The Cougars followed with two in the fifth. Pinch-hitter Brenden Groth and Braden Dolphin opened with consecutive singles. Braden Hoyer scored on Zac Stallman’s second hit of the game and Davis added a sacrifice fly to bring in Dolphin, pulling within 7-3.
A flyout and groundout ended the inning with the bases loaded. Mason Behn’s fielder’s choice plated Hoyer in the sixth that saw Kennedy leave two more runners on base.
Kennedy rallied again in the seventh with singles from Trent Wheatley and Kaden Waack. Hoyer added an infield single to load the bases with two outs.
Max Steinlage came on in relief for Flanscha, who threw 6 2/3 innings and scattered 12 hits for the win. Steinlage notched a strikeout to thwart the threat.
Hoyer said it felt like the Cougars were on the verge of breaking through late.
“You always feel that way,” Hoyer said. “You never know what’s going to happen with how kids are going to react to tournament pressure. It can turn in a hurry.
“To their credit, they made competitive pitches and didn’t lose their cool. We certainly gave them some things to think about.”
Kennedy was short-handed on the mound. Mason Behn was relegated to designated hitter duties with an undisclosed injury. Relievers Drew Schaefer and Eli Parks held the Tigers to just two runs in the last 6 2/3 innings.
“They came in, hit the mitt and challenge the hitters,” Hoyer said. “They gave us a chance in the end and that’s all you can ask for. Those are two seniors and we’re going to miss them big time.”
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