DES MOINES — Time is everything, especially in baseball.
Solon matched Sioux City Heelan with seven hits, but the difference was more a matter of when than how many.
Heelan’s Colin Kasperbauer delivered a seeing-eye single that just bounced into right field to score Jackson Boever, capping a 3-2 victory in eight innings over Solon in the Class 3A state quarterfinals Monday at Principal Park. Sixth-ranked Heelan (32-10) faces No. 3 Davenport Assumption (32-10) in Friday’s semifinal.
The No. 5-ranked Spartans (32-11) overcame a slow start and 2-0 deficit, tying the game in the sixth to force extra innings. In the eighth, Solon couldn’t capitalized with the bases loaded and the Crusaders strung together three consecutive singles to advance.
“Again, we aren’t in that situation if our seniors don’t come up with the big hits late in the game,” Solon Coach Keith McSweeney said. “Lots to be proud of, but it stings. It’s going to sting for a little while.”
The loss closed the career of a successful senior class. Six of the current nine seniors were starters on the 2016 state semifinals team, including Luke Ira, who was an eighth-grader on the 2014 qualifier. Solon has averaged more than 25 victories a season the last five years.
“It’s tough, knowing I’ll never play with those guys again,” Ira said. “We’ve been playing together since we were 8 years old. It’s just hard.”
Fittingly, seniors sparked Solon’s rally in the sixth. Ira belted a one-out triple to the center-field wall. Classmate Tyler Linderbaum produced the Spartans’ first timely hit, driving the ball past the right fielder for a double to score Ira. Linderbaum crossed the plate when Adam Bock shot one past first base for an RBI single.
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“I thought we had the momentum and we were going to seal it in the seventh,” Ira said. “We just couldn’t do it.”
Solon was retired in order in the seventh, but threatened in the eighth. Ryan Geistkemper led off with a single and Ira walked, advancing on Kendrick Harris’ sacrifice bunt. Linderbaum was intentionally walked with the open base, loading them with one out.
Kasperbauer, who threw 2 1/3 innings of relief of Christian Velasquez, worked out of trouble, getting a force at home on a short grounder down the first base line and groundout to shortstop.
“He made some good pitches and got himself out of that jam,” McSweeney said. “I really thought, in terms of baseball, that was probably the big difference in the game.”
The Spartans had a chance to get on the board in the fifth. Cam Miller hit a double and Spencer Wegmann added a two-out single to put runners on first and third. Velasquez ended the rally with a flyout.
“Their pitcher was doing a good job mixing up speeds,” McSweeney said. “Velasquez was a lot better than I thought and obviously more (velocity) with the second guy.”
Most of the game was a tight pitcher's duel between Miller and Velasquez. Miller threw 7 1/3 innings, coming out after hitting the pitch limit with 111 after the first out of the eighth.
Miller suffered a slow start, walking the first two batters of the game. Heelan took advantage for the early lead, getting an RBI groundout from Hunter Hope and a run-scoring single from Elijah Hazekamp.
Nerves and identifying the strike zone were factors.
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“Both,” Miller said. “I was pretty nervous going into this game. I was probably more nervous before the substate final game, but I feel like I got better.”
Miller stifled Heelan the rest of is outing. He retired eight straight batters during a stretch in which Velasquez recorded 11 consecutive outs. Miller faced only three batters in an inning four times. He said he focused on strikes and trusting the errorless Solon defense.
“I thought he really settled in,” McSweeney said of Miller. “A couple early walks and they made him pay. He really gutted up and competed. He hit the number. It’s there for a reason but I think if you left it up to Cam he would have thrown 200 pitches today.”
McSweeney said he will miss the heart of the seniors, who had a strong bond that factored into Linderbaum staying to play while starting his football career at Iowa. The impact extends beyond the baseball diamond into other sports.
“They are kind of a shout back to the way things used to be when I think in many ways things were better with young kids,” McSweeney said. “They play all the sports. They play pick-up games in every sport, whatever is in season, for the most part.
“Their legacy is set.”
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