Prep Baseball

T.J. Kimm's first home run helps power Iowa City Liberty past Cedar Rapids Xavier

Grand slam highlights 8-run inning in 11-9 victory; Saints rebound for 5-1 triumph in nightcap

Iowa City Liberty's T.J. Kimm
Iowa City Liberty's T.J. Kimm

CEDAR RAPIDS — Iowa City Liberty’s T.J. Kimm has a chip on his shoulder every time he has a bat in hand.

Lightning coaches helped put it there, urging the junior catcher to contribute more offensively. Their plea and his approach seemed to pay big dividends Friday night.

“I think every time up there you have something to prove,” Kimm said. “Especially tonight, I showed up. Hopefully, I can keep that going next week when we play in substate.”

Kimm went 3-for-3, providing a charge to the Lightning with a grand slam in the eight-run fourth inning of an 11-9 victory over Class 3A sixth-ranked Cedar Rapids Xavier in the opener of a Mississippi Valley Conference baseball doubleheader at Ken Charipar Field. The Saints managed a split with a 5-1 triumph in the nightcap.

“He’s really talented,” Liberty Coach Tom Cronk said of Kimm. “He just hasn’t been seeing the ball quite as well at the plate. We challenged him and said that we need him to step up and he did it. He did it in a big way.”

The blast was Kimm’s first in high school with the last coming in youth baseball. He said he had some near misses a year ago, but this one felt sweet, watching it clear the left field fence to tie the game, 4-4.

“The first time up I had a line shot,” said Kimm, who singled in the third and sixth and walked in the fifth. “It gave me momentum for the next at-bat.

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“You’re never supposed to go up there trying to swing for a home run. I tried to keep calm because I knew any big hit would get the team going.”

Kimm said he was expecting a fastball on the 1-1 count and knew it was gone on impact.

“Definitely,” Kimm said. “It just felt really good.”

Liberty (9-5) was far from through in the inning. The Lightning followed with five straight hits after the homer, including consecutive doubles by Tyler Dahm, Nolan Frey and Jacob Norris. Frey chased home two more runs, giving the Lightning their first lead of the game. Norris drove in another and Keian Secrist’s sacrifice fly capped the scoring.

The Lightning sent 12 batters step to the plate that frame, showing the intensity and energy that had been missing early.

“After the first three innings, we weren’t doing that,” Cronk said. “All of a sudden, T.J. gets a spark and then you can see what our lineup can do.”

Kimm shares time behind the plate with Sam Funke, who caught Game 2. Cronk has set his lineup based on what catcher works best with the starting pitcher. Good timing as Kimm works well with Norris.

“It was just figuring that out tonight,” Cronk said. “We’ve been lucky to do that all year. It’s a nice thing to have when you have two really good catchers.”

Liberty pounded 16 hits, including eight total from Dahm, Frey and Norris. Dahm and Frey had back-to-back singles in the fifth. Funke added an RBI double for insurance in the seventh.

“That’s a good pitcher (Xavier’s Logan McDermott),” Cronk said. “We hung in, battled and squared some balls up. Exciting to be where we’re at.”

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Xavier (12-4) fought back and pulled within a run twice. The Saints scored three in the third, including a two-run double by Tyler Wilken that made it 8-7. Jack Lux had an RBI infield single to help the Saints pull within 10-9 in the fifth.

The Saints used a five-run fifth for the victory in the nightcap. Alex Neal, Nick Banowetz, Lux and Myles Butkowski hit consecutive RBI singles, while Ryan Vondracek earned the win and Ben Kisting pitched two scoreless innings of relief for Xavier.

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

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