City High lost two regular season games to Cedar Rapids Kennedy by a total score of 13-0 and found itself trailing 4-0 to the Cougars after the second inning in the teams’ Class 4A substate baseball opener.
But the thought that a Kennedy win was inevitable at that point never entered the Little Hawks’ thinking. They battled back to tie the game at 6 at the end of the fifth inning before falling 7-6.
Kennedy (22-18) advanced to play Linn-Mar on Monday. City High ended its season 17-22.
“We had an up-and-down year, and it kind of reflected throughout that game,” City High coach Brian Mitchell said. “To get down and to come back and battle and compete, and certainly, we thought we were going to get that game. It’s really hard. These kids, they deserved better. To not get through one game is really disappointing.”
The game included seven errors, five by City High, 10 walks (five apiece) and a hit batsman. But it also included sterling defensive plays, particularly by Cougar shortstop Derek Jacobus, and clutch hitting.
“It was good stuff,” Jacobus said. “Substates, every game is going to be like that.”
Kennedy scored its four runs in the second off starter Eric Kenney on three walks, a sacrifice, three singles and an error.
City got one back in the third on singles from J.J. Gevock and Mitch Wieland and an RBI groundout by Jack Frakes. But the Cougars scored two more in the fourth on a Baltimore chop over the third baseman’s head, a sacrifice, a throwing error and an infield single that hit the second-base bag and bounced away wildly.
Again the Little Hawks could easily have figured this just wasn’t going to be their night as they headed to the bottom of the fourth down 6-1. Instead Josh Crosby opened it with an infield single and then ran all the way to third on an errant attempted pick off. Tyler Stika walked and Grant Simpson singled in a run. Kenney sacrificed the runners to second and third, and Mitch Hasler doubled in both guys with Simpson scoring just ahead of the tag on a flying slide into home.
“That’s the definition of this team,” Crosby said. “We’re fighters. We may not have the best record, but we’re a very close team and everyone has each other’s backs.”
The next inning Crosby just missed a homer to deep center field, but City got the tying runs on a Stika walk, Simpson single, a throwing error and a two-out, two-run single by Kenney.
“I joked with him when he got down to first that it got him off the hook for the loss,” Mitchell said. “But you know what? It was a great hit, and Eric’s been swinging the bat a lot better the last couple weeks.”
“I think everyone thought we had the game,” Crosby said. “We weren’t going to let off or anything, but I think everyone thought we had it going for us and we were going to come around and get the top end of the game and win it.”
The game was decided in Kennedy’s half of the sixth. Matt Stevens singled to center, advanced to second on a throwing error by Wieland on a pick-off attempt and made it to third on a wild pitch.
“It wasn’t a perfectly played game; there were a few throwing errors, but there’s a lot of pressure,” Mitchell said. “You want to do things so well and you probably put a little more pressure on yourself, and that’s how some of those mistakes happen.”
Wieland, who relieved Kenney in the second inning, had pitched out of a jam in the fifth inning where Kennedy got a man to third with no outs. But Kennedy didn’t squander this chance. Mitchell brought in Stika to pitch, and he got a groundout for the first out, but Jacobus chopped a ball that took too much time to reach Sam Mrstik at short and he had to throw to first for the out while the run scored.
“Credit to Matt Stevens for getting on base,” Jacobus said. “I’ve been seeing the ball well. I put it in play. Coach always tells us to be relentless. We’ve got a runner on third, we’ve got to fight to get him in.”
Kennedy threatened in the seventh, but City cut down a run at the plate on a great relay from right field to end the threat. The Little Hawks went down in order in the bottom of the seventh, thanks to two sparkling, spinning throws from Jacobus to first.
“These kids didn’t want to be done today and it’s very unfortunate,” Mitchell said. “But that’s baseball and athletics.”
Zach Daniels, Sammy Lizarraga (5) and Tony Maiers; Eric Kenney, Mitch Wieland (2), Tyler Stika (6) and Stika, Josh Crosby (6). 2B–Mitch Wieland, Mitch Hasler. W-Lizarraga, L–Wieland.