Prep Baseball

Western Dubuque advances to Class 4A state baseball semifinals

Bobcats drop third-seeded North Scott, 7-4

DES MOINES — Western Dubuque Coach Casey Bryant compared his team’s status to a gambler playing with house money.

Don’t expect him to stop at Prairie Meadows on the way out of town, risking the Bobcats’ good fortune.

“I think I’ll save all my luck,” Bryant said with a laugh. “What would kill me is if I went there and won a jackpot or something and we play terrible on Friday. I’ll save my luck for these guys.”

Luck wasn’t as prevalent as skill for the Bobcats Wednesday night. Western Dubuque scored five runs in the first two innings and rolled to a 7-4 victory over third-seeded North Scott in the Class 4A state baseball quarterfinals at Principal Park.

The Bobcats (34-9) will make their first 4A semifinal appearance in school history and shoot for their best finish since reaching the 3A finals in 2006.

“It feels really good,” Western Dubuque leadoff hitter Damon Jaeger said. “When we came here, we were all pretty confident. Now, we’ve showed them what we can do.”

The sixth-seeded Bobcats are considered an underdog by some and they embrace the role. Western Dubuque is the second-smallest program in Class 4A; they played in a conference with small schools and tallied 33 victories without cracking the rankings. This underdog has a dangerous bite.

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“That’s the way we like it,” Bryant said. “We’ll just keep going hard at people and see what happens.”

Sophomore Calvin Harris said the consensus is they can’t play with the big boys and that adds fuel to the fire.

“We’re always out here to try to prove everybody wrong,” Harris said. “It definitely puts a chip on our shoulder.”

Western Dubuque erupted for four runs in the second, taking a 5-0 lead. Jaeger’s single was sandwiched between two hit batsmen, loading the bases. Harris sparked the Bobcats with an RBI single to score courtesy runner Zach Butcher.

Jaeger and Sam Goodman scored when Kyle Lehmann reached on an error and Zach Bierman added a sacrifice fly to knock in Harris. A hot start was what Western Dubuque needed.

“It was absolutely huge for us and coached talked about it before the game on the bus ride,” Harris said. “Punch them in the mouth first and get ahead, which was a big key for us in the game.”

Jaeger scored twice, coming in on a Bierman RBI single for the game’s first run. He led the Bobcats with three hits.

“I feel like my role is to get on base and give everyone a chance to see what they can do,” Jaeger said. “When I’m on base, I’m trying to be as aggressive as I can to score. I think that has led to success when the top of the lineup to get on base.”

North Scott (28-11) pulled within two after one in the third and a three-run fourth.

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Jaeger also provided a key insurance run in the seventh. He smacked an RBI single, driving in Ben Bryant. He gave a fist pump on his way to first. Jaeger said the team emphasized adding to its lead and the elder Bryant said that run was critical.

“It was a pretty big rush,” Jaeger said. “That’s another run to score, so it was pretty good.”

OK, there was a little luck involved. With a 6-4 lead in the fifth, North Scott had a runner on third with two out when Harris uncorked a wild pitch. The ball hit a hard spot on the backstop and bounced right back to catcher Devin Ludwig, who flipped to Harris to tag the runner out at home.

“That was pretty big for us,” Harris said. “It definitely worked out in our favor, which was good. It really helped stopped their momentum.”

The Lancers also had a potential run on a perfect relay to third, cutting down Chase Moseley trying to stretch a double into a triple to lead off the bottom of the seventh.

The early advantage allowed Harris to relax and attack the strike zone. Harris threw a complete game, scattering nine hits and tallying seven strikeouts.

“He’s just a competitor,” Bryant said. “There aren’t too many guys to throw a sophomore out there like that.”

Harris got the nod over Goodman, who is 9-0 with a 0.60 earned-run average. Goodman pitched his sixth straight shutout in the substate final win over third-ranked Cedar Rapids Prairie last week. Bryant was confident in Harris and waned Goodman to get some added recuperation.

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Goodman has all 110 pitches available for Friday against the winner between second-seeded Urbandale.

“Him having a couple extra days is going to make him more effective,” Bryant said. “It’s just better for him.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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