NORTH LIBERTY — It just wasn’t their time. Seeking their first state tournament birth in just their third year of existence, the Iowa City Liberty Lightning came out sluggish.
Pleasant Valley jumped all over the Lightning in the first two innings en route to a 12-3 victory in a Class 4A substate final Wednesday night at Liberty.
“It sucks,” right fielder Nolan Frey said. “It’s definitely not the way we wanted to go out. These guys are my best friends. We were down, but I was thankful for every inning that we got to play.”
Due to a quirk in this COVID-19 plagued season which saw Muscatine drop out prior to the postseason, Liberty (10-6) earned a double-bye straight to the Substate 5 final. The Spartans had to fight their way through both rounds to meet the Lightning.
Liberty coach Tom Cronk was not about to use the eight-day layoff as an excuse.
“You know, you do your best,” Cronk said. “Here’s what I know, (Pleasant Valley) came out, they played great. We didn’t play our best game. We did our best as coaches to get ready. There’s nothing else you can do. The cards were dealt. We deal with them the best we can.”
The Spartans got off to a quick start. Liberty starter Keian Secrist issued a pair of walks to begin the game. Seth Clausen stung a double into the right-center gap to plate both runners. Ryan Mumey followed with an RBI single and Secrist quickly gave way to Ethan O’Donnell.
The Spartans loaded the bases, and Carsen Albrecht laced a double to bring in two more runs as Pleasant Valley seized a 5-0 lead after one.
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The onslaught continued in the second. Three straight singles loaded the bases. An Alex Clemens single, a passed ball and a run scoring groundout put Pleasant Valley up 8-0 heading into the third. Eight of the first nine balls the Spartans put in play fell for hits.
Liberty’s pitching began to settle in, but Jack Young and his mid-to-upper-80s fastball kept the Lightning from putting up crooked numbers.
Liberty used a two-out rally in the bottom of the third to notch its first run. Frey capped three straight singles to drive in Cody Schroeder.
A six-run deficit at 8-2 was as close as Liberty would get. Pleasant Valley put up three more in the top of the fifth. Frey added an RBI double in the bottom of the frame to round out the scoring for the Lightning.
As disappointing as the finish was, it was still a night to honor a group of Liberty seniors, who took their lumps as sophomores during the program’s first season.
“They’re amazing,” Cronk said. “One through 13 that has gotten us through three years. We’ve come along way from that first year when we were a bunch of sophomores trying to compete, trying to find games. They’ve just gotten better. They have built our program and put us on the map.”