Prep Baseball

Iowa City Liberty shakes off the rust, hands Dubuque Hempstead 1st loss to split baseball doubleheader

Liberty head coach Tom Cronk joins pitcher Cody Schroeder (6) and catcher Sam Funke (23) on the mound before the final o
Liberty head coach Tom Cronk joins pitcher Cody Schroeder (6) and catcher Sam Funke (23) on the mound before the final out of the first game of their doubleheader at Liberty High School in Iowa City on Tuesday, June 23, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

NORTH LIBERTY — Give ‘em a Mulligan for the first game.

It’s tough when you haven’t played for over a week, and that’s what happened to Iowa City Liberty’s baseball team. Through no fault of its own.

The Lightning had six games, three doubleheaders, canceled or postponed in a span of 10 days going into Monday because opponents either were on COVID suspension or awaiting COVID test results for a player. When your season is truncated to begin with, and all you can do is practice, that ain’t fun, and that ain’t a way to stay sharp.

So forgive that 10-2 loss in Game 1 to Class 4A fifth-ranked Dubuque Hempstead. Liberty shook off that rust and rebounded with a 9-5 win in the nightcap.

“It was tough, because in baseball, you get into a routine,” said Liberty’s Sam Funke. “When you get cut out of that routine, you have to stay motivated. Come to practice every day with a goal to work towards something. It’s hard to come back and see live pitching for the first time (in awhile), especially this team (Hempstead) because they’ve got good arms.”

Liberty (6-4) even gave up a pair of runs to begin Game 2 but teed off on Hempstead sophomore starting pitcher Brock Booth, who had a 3-0 record coming in, with a seven spot. Funke had a three-run double, scored on an ensuing Jacob Norris double, with Norris scoring on an ensuing Alec Boldt double.

“We’re just trying to live one day at a time,” said Liberty Coach Tom Cronk. “Friday, it was one hour at a time. We were finally ready to play (against Waterloo West) and were on the bus, and it was ‘OK, it’s going to happen,’ and, just like that, they pull the plug on us. All day today, halfway kidding, I was thinking ‘OK, when are they going to pull the plug on me?’ You just never know anything.

“We’re lucky to have every moment we’ve gotten. If you’d told me on May 4, we were getting 10 games in, I’d have been real happy with that. Now we’re getting greedy, and hoping we can finish this thing out. You just never know one day from the next what can happen.”

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Norris added a run-scoring double in the fourth. He incurred the pitching loss in the first game despite flashing a fastball that reached as high as 90 miles per hour on the stadium’s scoreboard.

Funke, Boldt and Norris are part of a 13-member senior class that was a huge part of Liberty’s first-ever team two years ago and a winning team last season. They were honored in a between-games ceremony here Monday night.

“I can’t tell you how important it is to have a good group when you are starting a program,” Cronk said. “They have done everything I have asked from day one. They’re just good baseball kids. We wouldn’t be where we are without every one of them ... I am lucky to have had them around.”

Hempstead (9-1) won the opener with an offensive assault led by third baseman Trey Schaeber. He went 4-for-4 with a run and three RBIs.

Liberty’s two runs came in the sixth, as the Lightning averted the mercy rule, unable to do much against Hempstead starter Andrue Henry. Maybe you can go back to that rust thing, considering Liberty came into this twinbill hitting .289 as a team and averaging over seven runs per game.

Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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