DES MOINES — North Linn wanted a couple. It earned much more.
The Lynx tallied six runs in the opening inning, to be exact, and that was more than they needed.
Second-ranked North Linn posted that big first inning and Jake Hilmer and Trevor Boge combined for a four-hitter, producing an 8-1 victory over West Branch in the Class 2A state baseball quarterfinals Monday at Principal Park.
“It’s one of our main three keys of our game plan just about every night,” North Linn Coach Travis Griffith said about the strong start. “Playing loose was No. 1. Have fun. Smile. I thought our kids did a great job of that today.”
The Lynx (39-5) return to the semifinals for the second straight season (they were in Class 1A last year) and third time in the last five years. They will face Des Moines Christian (29-8) at 4:30 p.m. Thursday.
“Up a class, to get back to this point is pretty tough,” Hilmer said. “With the amount of holes we had to fill this year, just because of graduation, the way guys have stepped up and have played beyond what I thought they could do impresses me every time.”
The start proved to be crucial. North Linn was unscathed in the first, surrendering a two-out single but no runs. The same couldn’t be said for West Branch in the bottom half.
Hilmer led off the frame by getting on base when his bouncer to shortstop was misplayed. Austin Hilmer followed with a double to right center and the first six Lynx batters reached base.
“When Jake got on, we really got up and going,” North Linn’s Nathan McEnany said. “Then, Austin got on and we were hoping for a big inning. We got the six runs.”
McEnany was one of three consecutive walks. He and David Seber each forced in a run. Parker Bechen was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to bring in another. Marcus Hromidko added a two-run single and Jake Hilmer capped the scoring with an RBI single.
“We are a dangerous team when we’re ahead,” Griffith said. “We’ve said it for years because of the way we small ball when you’re up one or two you can keep playing for one run. A lead for us is probably a bigger weapon than most teams can say.”
North Linn added a run in the fourth and another in the fifth. Jake Hilmer led the Lynx with two hits.
West Branch Coach Andy Lapel said he felt the Bears were ready to go and wasn’t sure if nerves played a role early. West Branch continued to battle after the deficit.
“It snowballed real quickly but we got out of it,” Lapel said. “We fought until the end. I knew that they would. It’s tough for them.”
The big lead allowed Jake Hilmer to relax and roll on the mound. He faced just 13 batters in four scoreless innings. The all-stater struck out seven, fanning the side in the second and fourth.
“That will be enough most nights for us and our pitching staff,” Jake Hilmer said. “So, that was big.”
Griffith was able to pull Jake Hilmer after just 52 pitches. Boge allowed one run in three innings of relief, needing 30 pitches to close the game. Both pitchers are eligible to pitch in the semifinals.
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“We have both barrels ready to go on Thursday,” Griffith said. “Now, we can choose what we need to do.”
Ted Bridges had two hits and Mitch Knoop drove in the lone run for West Branch, which ends the season with its third state appearance and first since 2012. The Bears finish 20-8.
“I’m happy with how they played,” Lapel said. “All season and even today.”
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