MARION — Pleasant Valley’s Max Slavens made solid contact in his first three at-bats only to see the Linn-Mar defense make solid plays to retire him.
In his fourth trip to the plate, the Spartan senior made sure Lion defenders would not make a play.
Slavens, a Western Illinois recruit, blasted a three-run homer off Linn-Mar reliever Ryan Stroschein with one out in the top of the eighth to break a scoreless tie, propelling the Spartans to a 3-0 victory in a Class 4A substate final on Wednesday night before an overflow crowd at the Linn-Mar Baseball Complex.
Pleasant Valley (25-11), winner in 13 of its last 14 games, advances to the state tournament next Wednesday at Principal Park in Des Moines. Linn-Mar finishes its season at 26-12.
“They are a great hitting team,” said Linn-Mar Coach Kyle Rodenkirk of the Spartans. “They were hot and we knew that coming in. I thought our defense played great and Peyton (Weber) threw the ball well. They just got the big hit.”
The Lions had a great opportunity to win the game in the bottom of the seventh. Tyler Oberbroeckling led off with a double and was replaced by courtesy runner Drew Strottman. With Dan Coughlin at the plate, Spartans catcher Eric Clifton threw behind Strottman at second. Strottman read the play and looked like he would make it back to second safely.
However, Strottman slipped as he headed back to second and was eventually tagged out in a rundown. Coughlin reached on an error, but the next two Lion batters were retired to end the threat.
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“We got a bad break there in bottom of the seventh,” Rodenkirk said. “That’s baseball. No blame on anybody. It’s baseball and weird things can happen. It’s just one of those things that wasn’t in the cards for us tonight. Hats off to PV. They are playing great baseball right now.”
Both starting pitchers were outstanding. Weber went six innings for the Lions, allowing just three hits. PV starter Jack Young hit his allotment of 110 pitches with two outs in the bottom of the seventh. He only allowed four hits.
In the eighth, Jose Lara started the winning rally with a bloop single to right and moved to second on Peyton Lindmark’s single to center. That brought Slavens to the plate. After looking at one pitch, he deposited a Stroschein offering over the right-field fence, setting off a wild celebration among the Spartan faithful.
Freshman Barrett Lindmark (3-0), who came in for Young in the seventh, retired the Lions in order in the bottom of the eighth to seal the win.
Linn-Mar will have plenty of rebuilding to do next season. All the starters, with the exception of sophomore Coy Sarsfield, were seniors.
“Last year’s seniors really laid the foundation in my first year,” Rodenkirk said. “This year’s seniors really ran with it. It was a great year. Record-wise they are one of the best teams ever at Linn-Mar. The outcome wasn’t what we wanted but those seniors are really great guys, I would do anything for them.”