Clock Strikes Midnight
CLEAR LAKE – The scoreboard never lies, but it also doesn’t always tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth either.
Take Friday’s Class 3A District 3 semifinal for instance. The large board just outside the fence in left field posted the final score: Clear Lake 9, Webster City 2. It looked to be a lopsided contest, when in reality it was anything but.
The truth is, third-ranked Clear Lake was in a dog fight as Webster City attempted to don Cinderella’s glass slipper for much of the night at Lions Field. But one lousy inning late in the game officially told the Lynx that their luck had run out.
Clinging to a 3-2 lead heading into the bottom of the sixth inning, Clear Lake put the murmurs of upset to bed by exploding for six runs en route to the seven-run postseason victory. The defending 3A state champion Lions (30-5) avenged a 5-4 upset loss to the Lynx last week and advanced to tonight’s district final against 10th-ranked Humboldt (22-6) back on its home field.
WCHS (12-14) may have lost the war and its season, but that didn’t diminish the effort the players gave, head coach Troy Smock said.
“I’m not a (Iowa State) Cyclone fan, but the Paul Rhoads “I’m so proud” (speech), that’s me right now,” he said after a brief meeting with his players. “I’m really proud. For 5 1/2 innings, we went toe-to-toe with the champs and didn’t bat an eye. Our effort was outstanding and that’s the thing I’m most proud of.”
Clear Lake entered the game with a .341 team batting average, but it wasn’t the Lions’ lethal sticks that made the difference.
As the old saying goes: Patience is a virtue.
The Lions took advantage of nine walks, two coming when the bases were loaded. The last half of the sixth inning was all about the free pass; WCHS reliever Daniel Halko walked the initial four batters in the frame to give Clear Lake an insurance run.
But the nightmare was far from over.
Cole Reigelsberger took over on the bump staring at the bases loaded with no outs. An error pushed another run across to up the Lions’ lead to 5-2 and then Mitch Keeran and Jacob Hogan delivered the crushing blows. Keeran turned on a Reigelsberger fastball and laced it just inside the chalk down the left-field line for a two-RBI double, and Hogan followed three pitches later with a line-drive base hit to center that pushed two more runs across.
Halko walked seven in two innings of work and he grew noticeably frustrated in the sixth when he wasn’t getting called strikes with his curve ball on the outside corner.
“The walks were the biggest thing,” Smock said. “We didn’t lose because of the umpires, but there were some tough walks on some pitches. (Catcher) Jordan (Moen) is a straight up kid and he said, ‘Coach, I don’t know where they’re missing,’ But that happens sometimes. You don’t always get the calls.”
Keeran went 2-for-3 with four RBIs out of the No. 5 slot in the Lions’ order. He was the recipient of one of those bases loaded walks that drove in a run in the fourth, and an inning later he smacked a run-scoring base hit into left to give the Lions a 3-1 lead.
Hogan finished with three RBIs, the first coming on a sacrifice fly in the fourth that broke a 1-1 tie and put his team in front for good.
Clear Lake mustered just five hits. Devin Uhlenhopp and Brock Adams lashed back-to-back singles to open the fourth; both were inches from being caught on diving stabs by Lynx center fielder Cal Zahn and right fielder Doug Stoakes.
Uhlenhopp and Adams eventually scored.
WCHS jumped on the board first with a run in the second inning courtesy of a Lions’ throwing error.
Ben Mossman recorded the game’s first hit in the third and was on second when Zahn blasted a two-out pitch to deep left field. Clear Lake’s Parker Truesdell caught the ball with his back nearly touching the fence.
“If (Zahn) gets it just a millimeter different that’s out and all of a sudden it’s 3-0 and it’s a totally different game,” Smock said.
Lions’ skipper Seth Thompson says he wasn’t surprised that WCHS made his club work hard for the win.
“Webster City is a team that played good baseball the last half of the season. They’ve got quite a few good players over there, so it’s not surprising that they were out there competing,” he said.
Dylan Fielder went 2-for-3 to lead the Lynx effort. His double into left-center in the top of the sixth scored Zahn, aboard via a walk, to cut the Lions’ lead to 3-2.
But otherwise, Adams’ – the Lions’ junior right-handed hurler – was in command. His three-hit, 95-pitch complete-game masterpiece included seven strikeouts and just two walks. He extracted himself from several jams and forced WCHS to swallow five runners stranded in scoring position.
Junior southpaw Seth Crouthamel took the loss on the hill. He was brilliant early, retiring nine of the first 10 batters he faced – six on ground balls and one on strikes. He surrendered just two hits, but was pulled in the fourth on the heels of back-to-back walks after throwing 58 pitches.
FIELDER INJURED: WCHS freshman designated hitter Drew Fielder was forced to leave the game with a right knee injury while he was up to bat in the first inning. He fouled a pitch off and quickly crumpled to the dirt before eventually being helped off the field.
“Drew said it felt like it gave and it popped,” Smock said. “I don’t know if his cleats caught or what … I just feel so bad for him and the team.”
The extent of Fielder’s injury is unknown as of this time.
ESPN HIGHLIGHT: Amidst the sixth inning debacle, reserve second baseman Avery Fuhs made a play worthy of the ESPN Top 10. On a flare off the bat of Brandon Tofte that was destined for shallow right field, Fuhs got on his horse and tracked the ball. At the last second he laid out completely and made the catch over his right shoulder to help minimize the damage.
GOODBYE SENIORS: Friday marked the end of the prep careers of seniors Ben Mossman, Trey Tesdahl, Doug Stoakes and Dylan Fielder. All four were multiple-year starters for the Lynx.