DES MOINES — The team that refuses to go away is playing for a state baseball championship. Believe it.
If you can.
Cedar Rapids Washington scored four runs in the top of the seventh inning without a hit and stunned West Des Moines Valley, and just about everyone else Friday night at Principal Park, 5-4, in the Class 4A state tournament semifinals.
Washington has trailed in all five of its postseason games, yet somehow finds itself in Saturday night’s finals versus Urbandale. They’ve already vanquished two Central Iowa powers, so why not a third, right?
Anything seems possible after this game.
“How do you explain this? I don’t know,” said Washington Coach Scott Brune. “It’s unbelieveable, an unbelieveable feeling. Kudos to all these guys. They’ve put in a lot of time. This senior group has been the group that turned the program around. They’ve got close to 70 wins in the three years most of those guys have been up, and it has showed. They are battle tested, they never give up, and they believe in themselves and each other. They just grind. They grind. Gosh, I don’t know what to say. I’m so excited.”
Washington (27-17), this field’s eighth seed, knocked off top-seeded, defending state champion Johnston in Wednesday’s quarterfinals, but this rally ... This rally was inexplicable.
The Warriors couldn’t do much against Valley’s left-handed starting pitcher Ben DeTaeye, striking out 11 times through six innings. But he hit his pitch limit after walking Rimmy Nemickas with one out in the seventh, and things suddenly turned.
Reliever Conner Shelton walked Jacob Bockenstedt, Lincoln Riley and Joe McKinstry to make it a 4-2 game. Hard-throwing righty Tyler Lewis, who has a 90-mile-per-hour fastball, came on and got Drew Christensen to bounce to second base, scoring Bockenstedt and moving Riley and McKinstry into scoring position with two away.
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With Nolan Cavanaugh batting, Lewis threw a wild pitch that scored Riley to tie it. His very next offering also went to the backstop, with McKinstry scoring to give Wash the lead.
“We just keep fighting,” Christensen said. “We learned from our first couple of (postseason) games that there’s no reason to get down. You keep fighting, because anything can happen. I’ve seen crazier stuff than that.”
Crazier than that, Drew? Nemickas came on to pitch the bottom of the seventh and retired Valley (28-16) in order, including two strikeouts, the second one of Kyle Westhoff capping this remarkable comeback.
“We have confidence,” Riley said. “It’s been like this ever since the first substate game. We all have confidence, have faith in everyone. If you believe, you achieve. That’s what we say. One thing led to another there, and we got it.”
This is Washington’s first championship appearance since 1994, when a similar underdog group won it all. Urbandale, the second seed, is 35-6 and would seem to be a prohibitive favorite.
Not that it matters with these Warriors. Not after this one.
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