Prep Baseball

Storied North Linn baseball senior class ready for last state tournament

No. 2 Lynx take on West Branch in Class 2A quarterfinals Monday

North Linn's Jake Hilmer (right) jumps in the air as he celebrates with teammates after winning a Class 1A quarterfinal game in the state baseball tournament at Principal Park in Des Moines on Saturday, July 21, 2018. (The Gazette)
North Linn's Jake Hilmer (right) jumps in the air as he celebrates with teammates after winning a Class 1A quarterfinal game in the state baseball tournament at Principal Park in Des Moines on Saturday, July 21, 2018. (The Gazette)

DES MOINES — The journey started about 10 years ago. Trevor Boge, David Seber and Jake Hilmer first teamed up for a 9U USSSA travel team coached by some of their dads. No one could have predicted where it would lead or the impact they would have on the North Linn baseball program a decade later.

“We’ve been doing this for a long time,” Seber said. “As we were young, we kept playing together. We have a lot of chemistry and that’s what brought us a lot of success.

“It’s been a lot of fun getting to where we have been.”

The senior trio will make a fourth state baseball tournament trip, having a hand in the program’s only appearances. This time North Linn is the top seed in Class 2A, facing West Branch in the quarterfinals Monday at Principal Park, beginning at 11 a.m.

“When we were eighth-graders we really had no expectations at all,” Boge said. “To go from that to making state four out of five years is pretty remarkable.”

The influence began before they even took a class in the school and it will come to an end a couple months after they left the hallways.

Seber and Hilmer were regular starters for the Lynx in 2015 when they reached the 1A semifinals in the program’s state debut. Boge played in 12 games that season, but he assumed a bigger role the next season and on 1A state-qualifying teams in 2017 and 2018.

North Linn Coach Travis Griffith conveyed a simple message with his underclassmen before last week’s substate final victory over Pella Christian. They needed to do whatever it took to help them return.

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“These guys deserve to finish off at Des Moines,” Griffith said. “It would be great to send them off with a championship and that storybook ending, but at least we’re down there where everybody gets to see them one more time.”

During their prep baseball careers, the Lynx have won five district titles and two Tri-Rivers Conference championships. They have helped North Linn compile a 189-32 overall record, including a 38-5 mark entering the quarterfinals.

“I don’t think it’s one really good grade,” Hilmer said. “It’s just one really good program right now and I think it will be really cool to watch in the future.”

“We really laid the foundation for the groups behind us,” Boge said. “Set a high expectation every year.”

Hilmer has attracted the most attention for his hoarding of individual state and national records, earning all-state honors each season. All three power the Lynx and helped win the school’s first state basketball title earlier this year.

Hilmer owns a team-high .566 batting average, .612 on-base percentage and 13-2 pitching record with 149 strikeouts in 74 1/3 innings. Seber is tied for second, hitting .437, while Boge is fourth at .431. Hilmer sits atop 2A with 81 hits and Boge is the 2A leader with 57 RBIs.

“I had guys with the same passion and work ethic,” Hilmer said about his classmates. “They’re pushing me and I’m pushing them. It definitely helped me get to where I am.”

Seber has been a pillar in the Lynx outfield and was 2-0 as a pitcher before an arm injury. Boge has anchored the infield’s left side, especially the hot corner, and is 6-0 with a 0.53 ERA.

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“They bring consistency,” Griffith said of Boge and Seber. “You have two kids that you know you can count on in big situations.”

The Lynx reached the semifinals for the second time last season. They lost some key pieces to graduation, causing some uncertainty at the start of this year. The Lynx made good strides and climbed to second in the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association rankings.

The seniors grabbed the leadership reins.

“He (Coach Griffith) pulled us aside and told us we had to step it up if we want to be good and get back to the state tournament,” Seber said. “We took on a bigger role of being leaders.”

North Linn is one of just three ranked teams to make the 2A field, joining fifth-ranked Van Meter and No. 7 New Hampton in its first appearance.

West Branch (20-7) qualified for the third time and first since 2012. The Bears have been impressive this season and will be a challenge. The two teams have not played this season, but West Branch has beaten 1A semifinalist Alburnett and Cascade, which have wins over the Lynx.

“They are a very big and athletic team,” Griffith said. “They are free swingers and get after it. They swing the bat very well one through nine. They have three pitchers that cause a lot of problems.

“We’re going down there to have fun and play loose. If we win, great. If not, we’re going to have fun doing it. Just enjoy my last few moments with these seniors.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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