Prep Baseball

North Linn seniors lead Lynx to first state baseball title game appearance

Jake Hilmer tosses 1-hitter, David Seber drives in winning runs against Des Moines Christian

DES MOINES — Jake Hilmer and David Seber helped lead North Linn to its debut state baseball tournament appearance in their first season as eighth-graders.

In their senior year, the duo played a key role in the Lynx making their first trip to the finals.

Jake Hilmer flirted with a perfect game but settled for a one-hit shutout and David Seber broke a scoreless game with a two-run single in the bottom of the sixth, propelling second-ranked North Linn to a 3-0 victory over Des Moines Christian in a Class 2A semifinal Thursday night at Principal Park.

Fellow senior Trevor Boge made a diving stab at third base, clinching the win and setting off the celebration.

“You look at what they have done for our baseball program, our community and for me,” Lynx Coach Travis Griffith said. “They’ve earned this shot to be in the championship game and their last game is going to be in a final.

“What a way to get there with Jake throwing the way he did, Seber having the big hit and Boge making that great play to end the game. Three seniors making the three big plays.”

North Linn (40-5) had reached the state semifinals for the third time, but came up short in the two previous performances. The Lynx finally got over the hump.

“It’s obviously a good feeling,” Hilmer said. “Something we probably didn’t expect going into this year, but we just stayed to the script, worked hard, tried to improve week by week. Through the bumps in the road we stayed consistent and worked hard. It’s definitely fun for us.”

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The Lions (29-9) couldn’t touch Hilmer most of the game. He retired the first 19 batters he faced with just three hitting the ball out of the infield.

Hilmer struck out 12 batters, including the first five, and was confident in his command of all three pitches after striking out the side in the first.

“My mentally is to mow guys down,” Hilmer said. “I’m not planning on anything else. That is just how my mindset is. I don’t want it to be cocky or arrogant because that’s not who I am. It’s just my mentality. Each hitter is my hitter.”

The only pitching mistake he made was with one out in the seventh. He hung a pitch to Cal Matthes, who hit a single to left and spoiled the perfect game and no-hit bid.

“It’s a 3-0 win,” Hilmer said. “I didn’t come into the game trying to get a perfect game or anything. I tried to get the win. For a while there, it felt like all I needed was one run, but I was just taking it batter by batter. Yeah, maybe I left one hanging, but I’ll take a one-hitter tonight.”

Hilmer pitched his final game for the Lynx, earning wins in the substate finals and the quarterfinals. He finished with a 61-7 career record and the most victories of any Iowa prep who strictly played summer baseball.

“He’s a special kid,” Griffith said. “You’ll never see this. The bigger the stage, the bigger he shows up and bigger he plays. He has done it his whole career. It doesn’t matter.

“He just has that ‘it’ factor. I don’t know what ‘it’ is. I’d like to say it is great coaching but I think we all know better.”

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Hilmer started the sixth-inning rally when shortstop Grant Christy’s diving grab couldn’t reel in his liner up the middle. An errant throw from the catcher sailed down the right-field line, allowing Hilmer to reach third.

Austin Hilmer walked and took second, which led Des Moines Christian to intentionally walk Boge to load the bases and set up a force at every base. Seber came to the plate. He had been in this situation before, watching opponents walk teammates to get to him.

He made them pay after he was nearly plunked twice. Seber smacked a single past the left side of a drawn-in infield to score both Hilmers for a 2-0 lead.

“I just thought it’s just another game,” Seber said. “‘You can do this. You’ve done it before’ is what I thought.

“I really wanted to get the hit after those and that’s what I did. I saw a lot of fastballs and one that was inside is where I wanted it.”

The Lynx added another run when Alex Sturbaum singled to score Boge.

“We knew that sixth inning with the top of the order, if we can get on base, things were going to happen.”

“Hats off to our kids. They really did a great job.”

The win spoiled a strong outing by Lions starter Kole Bradley, who threw five scoreless innings and was relieved after Jake Hilmer’s single in the sixth.

“We knew it was going to be a low-scoring game,” Griffith said. “They have a good pitching staff.”

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The Lynx will face No. 5 Van Meter for the championship. This was an opportunity they didn’t expect at the beginning of the season, but now they can match the title feat of the basketball team.

“It’s amazing,” Seber said. “We had to make big-time fills. A lot of players had to step up a lot.”

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

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