WELLMAN — The score resembled a football game.
The length seemed like a marathon and the effects may have felt like they ran it during midday in summer.
Hot, sweaty and tired aren’t so bad when you win.
West Branch tallied 11 hits and each starter scored at least once in a 14-7 victory over Iowa City Regina in a Class 2A district baseball semifinal game Tuesday at Mid-Prairie High School. The Bears (18-7) return to the district finals, facing Mid-Prairie (18-11) on Saturday at 7 p.m.
“It was a really long game,” West Branch Coach Andy Lapel said. “I think our guys got pretty dang tired out there and I know they did, too.
“We just fought. We knew our bats were going to keep us in this game and they did.”
Those bats were everywhere in the Bears lineup. All but two starters had at least one hit and each of them reached base at least twice. It was a total team effort in West Branch’s third victory over the Regals in the last month.
“I have the utmost confidence in anybody that steps up to that plate,” Lapel said. “We know we can hit the ball hard, one through nine.”
West Branch never trailed. Matt Paulsen opened the first with a single and reached third before giving way to courtesy runner Gage Gingerich, who scampered home on a wild pitch for a 1-0 lead. Paulsen came through the following inning with a two-run single, extending the lead to three.
Paulsen, who started on the mound and earned the win, led West Branch’s offense. He had three hits with four RBIs, reaching base in all but one of his five at-bats. He added an RBI double in the fifth.
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“He’s a great hitter,” Lapel said. “He’ll take anything opposite when he has to and pull balls when he’s ready for it. He just sprays the ball all over the field.”
Regina (10-22) battled back to tie the game with three in the third, receiving a two-run single from Chase Becker and an RBI base hit from Declan McCoy.
West Branch answered with six in its half of the inning, taking a lead it didn’t surrender. The Bears sent 10 batters to the plate. Gavin Hierseman and Matt Whaley had consecutive RBI singles, while Brady Lukavsky capped the scoring with a run-scoring single.
“Hitting is contagious,” Paulsen said. “Once we get a few going, the energy in the dugout is (through) the roof. It really helps.”
Hierseman matched Paulsen’s three hits and scored twice. He has struggled offensively this season, but made some recent adjustments. He was a key contributor.
“He was big for us,” Lapel said. “He’s a sparkplug for us. When he gets going, our guys get going.
“It’s nice to see everybody stroking the ball a little bit.”
The Regals pulled within 9-7 with a three-run double from Caden Smith. Paulsen got a strikeout to end the inning and strand the bases loaded.
“Our thoughts were to get outs, get out of the inning and get our bats back up,” Lapel said.
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The Bears added four in the fifth and one in the sixth. Ted Bridges came in and threw three innings of shutout relief.
“Ted Bridges came in and did a great job to clean up the mess,” said Paulsen, admitting he tired during the long game.
West Branch has turned things around, winning six more games after a 12-15 mark last season. The Bears still reached the district finals last year, but fell to Wilton. They have had this goal all season, according to Lapel. Paulsen said they aren’t satisfied with just returning.
“It’s great to be back. We’re looking to do bigger things.”
Mid-Prairie (18-11) advanced with an 11-1 victory over West Liberty in six innings. The Comets (11-15) scored in the first inning, but the Golden Hawks took over in the middle innings with 11 unmatched runs. Aidan Rath smacked a three-run home run to put the mercy rule into effect.
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