CEDAR RAPIDS — Some would say the Iowa City Liberty baseball team is ahead of schedule.
Coach Tom Cronk’s Lightning squad, in just its second year of existence, had a 5-4 lead entering the sixth inning of Monday night’s Class 4A Substate 7 semifinal matchup with West Des Moines Valley at Mount Mercy’s Plaster Athletic Complex.
The Tigers tied the game in the sixth and scored twice on a pair of infield singles in the top of the seventh, rallying for a 7-5 victory.
Valley (17-18) advances to play at No. 6 West Des Moines Dowling on Wednesday night in the substate final.
Liberty, in its first year as a 4A school, closes at 23-18.
“The ball just didn’t bounce our way (in the seventh inning),” Cronk said. “(In the bottom of the seventh), we got the tying run to second base with one out. That’s all you can ask for is to have a chance and our guys gave us a chance.”
The Lightning jumped to a 4-3 lead, thanks to a double from Jack Kinzer and a triple from Tyler Dahm in the second. A pair of Valley errors in the third gave Liberty a 5-3 advantage.
However, the Tigers battled back, scoring a single run in the fifth. The damage could have been worse if not for the work of Ethan O’Donnell out of the bullpen for Liberty. He came in with the bases loaded and nobody out and retired three straight hitters.
“Ethan did a heck of a job there, getting us out of trouble,” Cronk said.
Another sacrifice fly in the sixth tied the game. O’Donnell got Jake Auer on a pop out to first with the bases loaded to maintain the tie.
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In the seventh, two runners reached on walks, then moved up on a balk. Gabriel Miller and Ben DeTaeye plated a run apiece with infield choppers that both beat out for hits.
Liberty loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the inning aganist Valley closer Cooper Johnson. He then fanned two straight to close the game.
Cronk said he can’t wait for next season when he returns all but one player.
“Next year, when my guys are seniors, we’ll get it done,” he said. “I’m confident of that. We’ll have a shot to end up in Des Moines.”