DES MOINES — They couldn’t give up a crooked-number inning. Just couldn’t.
Yet the Lisbon Lions did in Saturday’s Class 1A state championship baseball game. And it cost them.
Mason City Newman remains the elite of the class after a 9-5 win at Principal Park. That’s back-to-back titles for the Knights and four of the last six.
By the way, Newman’s crooked-number inning was a sweet seven spot in the bottom of the first.
“We avoided the big inning all year,” said Lisbon Coach Travis Bennett, whose team was the state’s last remaining unbeaten. “We minimized the damage all year. We’ve only given up, like, a two spot or a three spot here or there. Very rarely have we given up more than three runs. But that first inning there, they just poured it on ... There were so many things that went on in that first inning that a good team will take advantage of, and they did.”
The oh, so frustrating thing for Lisbon (36-1) was that the first-inning damage could have been considerably less. A one-out bunt single was followed by a grounder toward the middle that escaped off a Lisbon infielder for what was ruled a gift hit, though at least one out probably should have been recorded.
A legit single by Andrew Morse scored Newman’s first run. With the bases loaded and one away, Lisbon was able to get a forceout at the plate that for out number two.
But starting pitcher Brett Givens hit the next three hitters to force in three runs. An ensuing two-run double by leadoff man Josh Fitzgerald added insult to injury for the Knights (40-1), whose only loss was to Class 3A state tourney semifinalist Sioux City Heelan.
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“No, I don’t think nerves were a problem,” said Lisbon’s Austin Krob. “We just had that one error there, otherwise we could have been out with only three guys hitting. One error can change the game like that, as you see. That’s baseball. Errors are going to happen. You’ve just got to help them up and get back at it next inning.”
Givens and his mates settled down and didn’t go away, peppering Newman starting pitcher Evan Paulus for five hits and five runs in the third to make it a 7-5 game. Tyson Williams had a big two-run double off the center-field fence in the rally.
“Just try to keep fighting,” said Givens, who had won his first 11 pitching decisions. “That’s what you’ve got to do. It doesn’t matter.”
But Lisbon didn’t get another hit against Paulus, who added a mammoth solo home run over the tall, 400-foot wall in dead center in the sixth.
“We all have heart,” Krob said. “That first inning hurt us a little bit. We made a couple of errors that hurt us, but so be it. That’s baseball. It’s going to happen. We all knew we had to fight back. Everyone on our team was ready to fight back ... We fell short. Nothing you can do about it.”
“We were doing everything we could to get in (Paulus’) head,” Bennett said. “Getting loud, getting rowdy. But he kept calm, kept pitching. There’s a reason they are defending state champs, that they’re state champs again.”
So a magical ride runs out of gas a foot or two shy of the finish line for Lisbon. Bennett confirmed postgame he is leaving to take an assistant coach job at Cornell College.
Seven seniors graduate.
“A great senior class that’s leaving,” Bennett said. “Hopefully this season is remembered for a few years.”
It should be.
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