Prep Baseball

Lisbon brings unbeaten mark to Class 1A state baseball tournament

Second-ranked Lions faces Don Bosco in second straight state quarterfinal appearance

Lisbon's Brett Givens (left) slaps hands with Bryce Werderman after Givens scored a run during the sixth inning of their high school baseball game against Alburnett at City Park in Lisbon, Iowa, on Monday, July 2, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Lisbon's Brett Givens (left) slaps hands with Bryce Werderman after Givens scored a run during the sixth inning of their high school baseball game against Alburnett at City Park in Lisbon, Iowa, on Monday, July 2, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

LISBON — Unbeaten, unfinished and unsatisfied.

Lisbon has produced a memorable season, finishing the regular season without a loss. The state’s only unblemished regular season won’t mean as much if that goose egg in the loss column cracks before the Lions surpass last year’s finish.

“We’ve had a good season, so far, obviously, but 34-0 and a state tournament berth wasn’t the goal,” Lisbon senior Tyson Williams said. “We’re looking to finish it off and end up on top.”

The second-ranked Lions will make their second straight appearance and eighth in program history at the Class 1A state baseball tournament Saturday at Principal Park in Des Moines. Lisbon will open with seventh-seeded Don Bosco (25-8) in a quarterfinal, beginning at 11 a.m.

Lisbon hasn’t faltered since an extra-inning state quarterfinal against Akron-Westfield a year ago. The previous 34 games have already been forgotten.

“The last thing we’re thinking about is our record at this point,” Lisbon Coach Travis Bennett said. “It’s literally win at all costs and get to the next round. Every day you show up you’re 0-0.”

A scare in the regular-season finale was a blessing in disguise, posting a tight 11-9 victory over a winless North Cedar team just before the postseason. Bennett could see the refocused approach in postseason play and in state preparation Thursday. The Lions don’t take anything for granted.

“That was one of the best things to happen to us,” Bennett said. “We still got the win but at the same time it opened our eyes. We can’t look at a team’s record and expect to just show up and win. You show up to the park you have to be ready to go and handle business the right way.”

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The results are not new for this group. For the last decade, the Lions, especially the six regular senior starters, have devoted summers to baseball and each other. They have played on the same teams, starting in 2008, and routinely placed in the top eight at state.

“We’ve been playing together in the same spots and same order since we were 8 years old,” Williams said. “It’s been awesome to have grown up with these guys and see everybody mature.”

The Lions have developed strong camaraderie over the years. They are a tight group, spending time together away from the diamond. Fortnite is a common activity, playing it Thursday night on the eve of the state tournament’s first day. The pool at junior Hagen Waters’ house is a hot spot as well.

“We’re incredibly close,” Williams said. “The guys we’re playing with are all best friends.”

Players are close enough that they aren’t afraid to speak up and hold a teammate accountable in practice, if needed. Bennett said they resemble a bunch of brothers.

State baseball

Principal Park in Des Moines is set to host the Iowa high school state baseball tournament again from July 20-28. All four championship games are scheduled for next Saturday.

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“They enjoy being at the park together and that is part of it,” Bennett said. “They don’t want the season to end. They want to keep playing games together for as long as they can. They want to soak up every last inning and out they can get.”

Lisbon boasts a prototype for almost every position in the field and batting order. Jake Jennett is a table setter as a leadoff batter. Brett Givens and Wes Benyshek are scrappy players up the middle at shortstop and second base, respectively.

Austin Krob is the most notable standout and one of 1A’s top all-around players, leading the team with a .491 batting average in the No. 3 spot and posting a 9-0 record on the mound. First baseman Williams and outfielder Waters provide the power, hitting six home runs apiece. Bryce Werderman, a state runner-up wrestler, plays the role of hard-nosed catcher.

“You have a good mix of different talents,” Bennett said.

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Each player embraces his role and owns a team-first mentality. The balanced contribution has helped power Lisbon’s success.

“You can’t play the game with only one guy,” Krob said. “It has to be a nine-person game. If you got all nine on the same page, it’s hard to get beat.”

Lisbon leads 1A with a .423 batting average, coming in 48 points higher than the next best team. The Lions average a little more than 11 runs a game. Eight have 30 hits or more, including a team-high 58 from Givens. Lisbon doesn’t have an easy out in the lineup.

“It’s definitely a strength,” Givens said after the Lions clinched the Tri-Rivers Conference title with a sweep of Alburnett. “You’ve got to know you’re never out of it. The next guy up can pick you up, if you can’t do it.”

Givens and Krob give the Lions a pair of aces. Givens is 11-0 with a 0.98 earned-run average. Krob has a 1.16 ERA, striking out 116 in just 54 1/3 innings pitched.

“Brett is baseball smart,” Bennett said. “Doesn’t really overpower hitters all that much, but he has really good off-speed. He’s really smart. He throws a lot of strikes.

“Krob, he’s just a specimen out there. He’s got a bright future, heading to Kirkwood after this year. He has that (velocity) you can’t teach. He’s got that good curveball and it all looks the same coming out of his hands. It’s tough. He’s tough on hitters.”

The Lions are looking for bigger and better things this time, looking to go 1-0 three times during the next week. The experience from a year ago has been a benefit.

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“It has helped tremendously,” Williams said. “Just comparing last year to this year, we’re not nervous. We’re ready to go each game. We know what we’re capable of. We’re ready to come in and dominate.”

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

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