IOWA CITY — In a game where two sophomore pitchers dominated, it was a mile-high pop fly that helped change all the momentum Wednesday night and help determine a winner in this Class 4A substate baseball final thriller.
Of all things.
Jason Strunk hit that fly to short right field leading off the bottom of the sixth inning for Iowa City West that dropped for a gift single. An errant pickoff attempt, a Ryan Cooper RBI double and eventually a bases-loaded walk to Ian Gluesing followed as the second-ranked Trojans scored twice to escape Cedar Rapids Prairie, 2-1.
West (33-7) is in the state tournament for the ninth time in the last 12 years. Pairings will be determined and released Thursday afternoon.
“You can definitely feel the shift of momentum,” said sensational West sophomore pitcher Marcus Morgan. “Guys started getting up in the dugout. It’s just contagious. Everybody gets going. That’s the way it went.”
Morgan allowed just one hit, walked three and struck out 13 in 6 2/3 innings to barely outduel Prairie’s Jackson Nove. Southpaw Nove gave up just three hits, walked four and struck out eight.
Watch these guys the next two years because they’re going to be something, especially Morgan, who consistently throws in the upper 80s to 90 miles per hour and has a nice slurve. He’s a multi-sport kid with a huge upside since he doesn’t concentrate on just baseball.
“He’s really good,” said West Coach Charlie Stumpff. “He’s probably now where Nick Gallagher finished up as a senior. Actually probably better because he’s got better command.”
A West High and University of Iowa grad, Gallagher is pitching in the Cleveland Indians organization, by the way. High praise.
Prairie (22-20) scratched across an opportunistic run of its own in the fourth on a walk, a passed ball and a strikeout wild pitch. That’s the way the game stayed until the telltale West sixth.
After his pop single, Strunk moved all the way to third base when Nove threw errantly past first and down the right-field line. Cooper followed with an oppo drive that ricocheted off the short but high fence in right-center to knot the game at 1-1.
A walk was followed by a sacrifice bunt and an intentional walk that loaded the bases with one away. Gluesing took extremely close pitches on 2-2 and 3-2 that were called balls, scoring Cooper’s courtesy runner.
“They put together a great sixth inning and got the job done,” Nove said.
“When you’re playing a good team, when you have two good teams going in the postseason, it’s all about execution,” said Prairie Coach James Nelson. “It’s going to come down to which team can execute all the way through and not make that big mistake. And then when mistakes happen, whether or not they compound themselves.”
Morgan walked two in the Prairie seventh, hitting his 110-pitch limit striking out Hunter Whinery. Cooper came on to whiff pinch hitter Caden Stoffer to end it.
“Strunky got into a good place to hit, and he does sky it up in the air,” Stumpff said. “These aren’t major league lights, and when the sky is bad, it’s a tough play. Then Coop came up real big. We got our chance. If was whoever got a break. We were lucky to hang on.”
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