CEDAR RAPIDS — A neutral fan would likely find most Linn-Mar baseball games this season exciting to watch.
Lions coaches, players and fans ... not so much.
The Lions played another one of those heartstopping games in Saturday’s Class 4A Substate 4 quarterfinal against Pleasant Valley at the Robert W. Plaster Athletic Complex on the Mount Mercy University campus.
Trailing 5-1 heading into the bottom of the fifth, Linn-Mar scored three in the fifth and two more in the seventh, capped by Josh Hilsenbeck’s second walk-off winner this season, a two-out single bringing home Greg Hall from third.
The 6-5 victory lifts the Lions (23-14) into a substate semifinal at 7 p.m. Monday against Western Dubuque (31-9) at Farley. The Bobcats advanced with a 2-0 win over Bettendorf on Friday. Monday’s winner will play on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the substate final against Cedar Rapids Prairie.
Pleasant Valley retires at 20-21.
“We don’t quit,” said Hilsenbeck, whose other walk-off hit came against Cedar Rapids Washington. “It just took a little bit of momentum. With our (bullpen) coming in and shutting them down, it gave us an opportunity to settle down and get back in the game.”
The visiting Spartans didn’t show any ill effects of driving to Linn-Mar on Friday only to see the originally scheduled game rained out, then having to drive back to play at a different venue on Saturday. Coach Bill Sandry’s team took a 3-0 lead in the first. Max Slavens and Caden Kipper had RBI singles.
“Boy, it is tough in a one-and-done situation to fall behind like we did,” Linn-Mar Coach Kyle Rodenkirk said. “It took us awhile for our bats to get started, but we kept battling.”
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Linn-Mar relief pitchers Trent Davis and Camden Thornhill kept the Lions in the game. Davis allowed a pair of runs in the fourth, but worked out of a jam to limit the damage. Thornhill was brilliant. In three innings, he retired nine of 10 batters he faced, allowing only an infield single to Slavens in the fifth.
“Cam Thornhill was probably the MVP of the game for us,” Rodenkirk said. “He was just outstanding and had them off-balance on most of their at-bats.”
Hilsenbeck’s single in the fifth capped a three-run inning for the Lions, drawing them within one. In the seventh, freshman Coy Sarsfield started the winning rally with a double to right-center. Senior Tyler Green came off the bench to bunt and he dropped one down that was mishandled by PV pitcher Jack Young.
Hall returned as a pinch runner and stole second. After reliever Evan Crawford retired Nate Annis on a groundout, Cole Wright’s fly to right plated Sarsfield with the tying run, moving Hall to third. Hilsenbeck was next and his rocket to third handcuffed Spartans third baseman Kipper and the ball bounced into left field, allowing Hall to trot home with the winning run.
“I was just looking for something I could put the bat on,” Hilsenbeck said. “He was a tough pitcher and I knew he would be throwing hard.”
The Lions went through three pitchers on Saturday and with one less day between games than usual, Rodenkirk’s options for Monday are limited.
“(Starter) Reed Zahradnik didn’t throw much today so we have some options,” Rodenkirk said. “I feel pretty good about where we’re at right now and that’s playing on Monday.”