IC West wins substate, advances to 4A state tourney


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Down 2 runs heading into the seventh inning, in a game where a loss would end the season, the Iowa City West Trojan baseball team surged back to beat the Dubuque Senior Rams, 4-2, in a nine-inning classic at Trojan Field on Wednesday night.

The opening frames were controlled in dominating fashion by each teams respective pitchers. Senior Kellen Yoder threw four innings of virtually spotless baseball for the Trojans, holding the Rams hitless until his departure due to a popping sound in his shoulder.

Leading off the fifth, Yoder initially signaled discomfort while warming up, and after walking the first batter of the inning on four pitches, he was relieved by Nick Grimsman. An ovation from both school's sections of the bleachers showed the respect each fanbase had for Yoder's dominating performance.

Equally brilliant for the Rams was senior right-hander Alex Steines. The first hit against him didn't come until the top of the sixth, when sophomore Devin Raffensperger lined a single through the left side of the infield.

Steines had Dubuque's defense playing with clear confidence behind him, mystifying Trojan hitters early and often with his quick pace and changing velocities. His late, tailing movement on an over-80-mph fastball, coupled with his late-breaking off-speed stuff induced numerous big bats into weak putouts.

Unfortunately, it will be the last two-thirds of an inning that Steines will remember about the game. After forcing an out on a close play, cued off the bat of catcher Colin Baker to lead off the seventh, Steines succumbed to his pitch count and used up every bit of gas in the tank in an effort to send his Rams to state.

A drawn-out at bat by Luke Crimmins led to a walk.

Grimsman, after just missing being plunked on the prior pitch, took one off the side for the second time on the game.

Another walk — this one to Ezra Reimers.

The table was set for junior Reid Bonner, and he delivered in the form of a game-tying two-run single. Although Reimers was caught in a pickle and eventually tagged out, the damage had been done.

Dubuque Senior assistant coach Dusty Rogers had nothing but positive things to say about his ace's performance.

"He pitched an incredible game. He got up to about 110-115 pitches, and I think that got to him," Rogers said. "The curve ball started hanging and lost its bite, his fastball lost its velocity — but he left it all on the field."

The win gives the Trojans a berth in the Iowa Class 4A state tournament, their third such appearance in four years. And if they manage to hoist their school's first baseball trophy, it will only add to the already established state-record six championships won by a single school over the course of one athletics season.

The comeback was nearly all-for-naught, as a drive in the bottom of the seventh by Dubuque third baseman Dylan Merritt had a majority of the Rams prematurely celebrating a walk-off victory. The ball struck a few feet short of the wall and skipped over, resulting in a ground-rule double and an opportunity for Crimmins to give his team another chance to put themselves ahead.

"Early in the game, it's probably a home run," Trojan assistant coach Tom Cronk said. "But as the wind died down and the air got thicker, the ball didn't carry like it could have."

The Trojans will take on West Des Moines Valley in the first round of the state tournament on July 25. Valley (33-9) is the defending champion but enters the bracket as the No. 5 seed while the Trojans measure up as the fourth-ranked squad.

West, despite a strong showing in the tournament over the years, has never won a championship.

But for now the Trojans are content with their substate victory.

Crimmins summed up the mood of all the players when he said, "It's the best feeling in the world."

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