VAN HORNE — North Linn baseball coach Travis Griffith has coined the phrase “double squeeze” to describe a play in his small-ball approach.
This isn’t really a baseball thing, yet, it’s the team’s thing. The Lynx just haven’t had to resort to it as much in recent years.
“We were talking that we lost our identity a little bit,” Griffith said. “We have always run bases and bunted well. We’ve always squeezed with Jake (Hilmer) or Trevor (Boge) on the mound. We know normally two or three runs is enough.”
With all the pieces in place — two speedy baserunners and a reliable bunter — it was fitting that the signature play pushed across North Linn’s first two runs and only scores it needed for a second straight state tournament berth.
Hilmer tossed a no-hitter and David Seber and Boge added two RBIs apiece as the second-ranked Lynx handled Pella Christian, 8-0, in a Class 2A substate final Tuesday night at Benton Community High School.
North Linn (38-5) is making its fourth trip to state. All have come since Boge, Seber and Hilmer entered the program as eighth-graders.
“It is crazy to think about four in five years, especially with this group,” Hilmer said. “We came into high school and the school hadn’t been there once and to make it four of five years shows how special the group ahead of us was to help us get there and how special the groups behind us are.”
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The first inning set the tone. Hilmer sat the Eagles down in order. He led off with his 81st career double, setting a state record. His brother, Austin Hilmer, followed with a single and a stolen base to set up the “Griff Special.” With one out, Seber laid down a perfect bunt that plated Jake easily. Austin never broke stride and scurried home, sliding safely for a 2-0 lead.
The Eagles (17-15) weren’t holding Austin close to second and he picked up Griffith as he waved him home.
“It all goes by fast,” Austin Hilmer said of the play. “When Griff called it, I knew they probably wouldn’t be looking for it. I got a big lead and I knew it would have been close, but we got it so it’s good.”
Both Hilmers helped North Linn double its lead in the fourth. Jake singled and scored on Austin’s triple. During the next at-bat, Austin broke for the plate and induced a balk, making it 4-0.
North Linn pulled away in the four-run fifth. Boge, who leads the team in RBIs, drove in his 57th run of the season with a bases-loaded double.
“In a game of inconsistency, you just don’t see kids with that kind of consistency gene,” Griffith said of Boge. “Every time it seems like we need that big hit in an RBI situation, he is there for us.”
Seber, who gestured for squeezes both times, laid down another one to score Austin Hilmer. Nathan McEnany, who missed a squeeze sign, made amends with an RBI single to score Boge for the final run.
“That’s just how we play,” Griffith said of small ball. “I like to coach it that way. Our kids enjoy it.”
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The Lynx didn’t need much offense. Hilmer tallied 15 strikeouts and allowed just two baserunners — one in the fifth on a dropped third strike and a leadoff walk in the sixth. Only one touched second base.
Hilmer tossed his third no-hitter of the season, ending the game and clinching the state berth on a strikeout.
“I knew what was going on,” he said. I wasn’t numb to the moment. I knew the situation. I wanted to end it with a (strikeout). Fortunately, I got ahead in the count and was able to do it.”
North Linn will make its first appearance in the 2A quarterfinals, qualifying previously in 1A and reaching the semifinals last season. The Lynx will be the highest-ranked team in the field.
“We’re looking for more this year,” Austin Hilmer said. “Just trying to get to that final game and see what happens.”
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