Prep Baseball

Cedar Rapids Washington slays No. 1 Johnston in state baseball quarterfinals

Unraked Warriors advance to 4A semifinals with 7-5 victory

DES MOINES — There are some things a record, ranking or seeding cannot convey about a team.

They don’t reflect all the intangibles that can have a heavy influence on success. Cedar Rapids Washington has parlayed most of those things into a strong postseason.

The eighth-seeded Warriors continued their run with another come-from-behind victory, upsetting top-ranked Johnston, 7-5, in the Class 4A state baseball quarterfinals Wednesday at Principal Park. Washington advances to Friday’s semifinals for the first time since the second of two straight appearances in 2000.

“We just have faith in ourselves that we are the best team in the state,” Washington Coach Scott Brune said. “We’re playing like it right now, honestly.”

Washington (26-17) faced deficits in each postseason game and was down 3-1 and 4-3. The Warriors have overcome injuries and illnesses this season, but have willed themselves to victories. Brune hasn’t been a part of a team like this as coach or player.

“They just believe,” Brune said. “They believe they are going to get their job done. They believe they are going to win. They are going to believe they are going to compete and it doesn’t matter, if they are down.”

The Dragons (34-6) had the Warriors down a run in the fifth. Draedan Spang was one of those Warriors who battled injury. A broken finger sidelined him for most of the season. He provided a boost indicative of the Warriors’ season, contributing after facing adversity.

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Spang delivered a pinch-hit, bases-loaded triple in the four-run fifth inning that gave Washington the lead for good. He was ready when Brune told him to grab a bat and hit for Matyk Hilton.

“I was very excited,” said Spang, whose father was a member of Washington’s 1994 state title team. “I couldn’t wait to get up to the plate. I knew I was going to get a hit.

“I was due for that hit. I needed that hit.”

Spang watched the first two pitches get by and then sat on a fastball. He said he stopped thinking and just swung away, drilling it into the left-center field gap. Joe McKinstry, Drew Christensen and Nick Nading raced around to give the Warriors a 7-4 edge.

“I can’t explain the feeling,” Spang said. “I didn’t realize how big of a play I made.

“It was amazing. One of my best feelings ever.”

The inning opened with Jacob Bockenstedt’s double. He scored to tie the game, crossing the plate when McKinstry reached on a fielder’s choice.

McKinstry helped the Warriors erase their first deficit, tying the game at 3-3 in the fourth. He led off with a double and scored on an errant throw to the plate after Nolan Cavanaugh grounded to third. Christensen, who reached on one of six hit batsman combined for both teams, came in on a balk by Johnston starter Sean Nussbaum.

Christensen’s fielder’s choice scored Rimmy Nemickas to put Washington on the board in the first.

“This is a special group of guys,” Brune said. “They just grind out at-bats. They grind out on the mound. They play great defense. They are in it for each other.”

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Bockenstedt was workmanlike on the mound again, throwing five innings and allowing five runs on seven hits. He recorded eight strikeouts. Bockenstedt buckled down to pitch out of bases-loaded jams in the first and third. He limited the Dragons to two in the in the third, which proved to be their biggest inning.

“Johnston did a good job of hitting the ball hard and into gaps,” Bockenstedt said. “I just had to do my job of keeping them at home and not letting them put up a big number. The team behind me did a good job. It was a good overall effort.”

Washington’s defense played a pivotal part in the win. Lincoln Riley made a spectacular diving catch on the center-field warning track with his back to the infield, robbing Drew Beazley of an extra-base hit to open the bottom of the sixth. Ben Skogman ended the frame, gunning Andrew Nord at second on a stolen base attempt.

With a runner on and no outs, third baseman Mick McCurry bare-handed a dribbler and threw to first for the out, preventing the tying run from reaching base and helping Nemickas close the game again.

“Two huge defensive plays,” Brune said. “They really kept the momentum on our side.”

Washington advances to a semifinal against fourth-seeded West Des Moines Valley (28-15), starting at 7:30 p.m. The Warriors have already surpassed last year’s quarterfinal finish. McKinstry didn’t make any plans, hoping to be playing at least one more game Friday.

“I believed we could,” McKinstry said. “It’s amazing.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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