NP edges Albia, 2-1, in 2A quarterfinals
DES MOINES – The wait was worth it for North Polk in the Class 2A state quarterfinals Monday against Albia at Principal Park in Des Moines.
Anticipating state for the past six days, The Comets and Blue Demons nearly got in two games worth of playing time Monday.
The two teams participated in the longest game in state history, lasting three hours and 35 minutes. The game started at 8 p.m. and nearly took until midnight before North Polk prevailed, 2-1, in 13 innings to advance to the semifinals for the second year in a row.
North Polk (30-5) fell behind 1-0 after one inning and it didn’t appear things were going to go its way for most of the night.
The Comets appeared on the verge of breaking through each of the first four innings, but it wasn’t until the fourth when they finally got on the scoreboard.
Albia (24-17) certainly didn’t look like an overmatched team against a Comet squad seeded second in 2A. The Blue Demons hunkered down after North Polk’s first run and produced eight more scoreless innings before a Grant Schiltz sacrifice fly drove in the winning run in the top of the 13th.
"Nobody is going to roll over for you," North Polk Dave Middleton said. "We were waiting for a two-out hit – like all night – but you’ve got to give our guys credit. They continued to battle and just stayed with it and constantly made plays. That was a good team and we’re fortunate to win."
Jacob Hadaway and Grant Lang combined for 13 outstanding innings on the mound to help get North Polk the win. But it was the defense in the field that made the difference as the Comets produced an impressive five outs at the plate and finished with just two early errors.
North Polk’s first two big defensive plays came in the bottom of the sixth inning.
With one out and runners on first and second, Albia’s Bryce Leshen laced a single to center field that looked as if it was going to score Griffin Osing from second to break a 1-1 tie. But Comet center fielder Clay Cory unleashed a perfect strike to home plate in plenty of time to nail Osing for the second out.
But Albia still had runners on second and third as Victor Sanders moved from first to third and Leshen took second after Osing was thrown out.
Hadaway then had a pitch get away from him and Sanders went charging for home. But Lang made a brilliant recovery behind the plate at catcher to get the ball and toss it to Hadaway in plenty of time to get Sanders for the final out.
In the bottom of the 10th inning, Albia had runners on first and second with two outs. Gabe Gravert stepped up and singled to right, but Russell Greene rifled a throw home to easily get Brett Leshen trying to score for the final out.
In Albia’s half of the 12th inning Leshen came up with a big two-out infield hit with a runner on second. Ethan Gray tried to score from second on the play, but he was easily gunned down at home for the final out.
Albia had one last chance in the bottom of the 13th when Gravert tripled over the head of North Polk left fielder Reed Smith with one out. But Osing followed by grounding to Hadaway at short and the senior threw home to get Gravert in plenty of time.
Lang then forced Sanders to ground into a force play at second for the final out to end a wild night at Principal Park.
"Five outs at the plate, that could be the game right there," Hadaway said. "That was huge. Our defense really stepped up and made plays."
Hadaway gave up one unearned run in six innings on five hits and four walks with 11 strikeouts as the starting Comet pitcher. The all-state ace said he was relieved to survive the marathon and advance to face third-seeded Kuemper Catholic (29-6) in the semifinals Thursday.
"It just dragged on and dragged on," Hadaway said. "But coach kept telling us to stay together and good things are going to happen. He was right. It finally clicked."
Cory and Schiltz were the offensive heroes for North Polk in the top of the 13th. Cory ripped a leadoff double to the gap in right-center field, Austin Hillebo bunted him over to third and Schiltz drove him home with a sacrifice fly to center field.
"All I was trying to do was get it in the air and once I did, I was running down the first base line looking at Clay and hoping he would score," Schiltz said. "Once he did, I was jumping with excitement."
North Polk’s first run came in the fourth inning when Lang ripped a one-out double down the right-field line and courtesy runner Matt Cox scored on a dropped fly ball in left field with two outs to knot the score at 1-1. Albia’s only run came in the bottom of the first when Gray drew a one-out walk and scored on a double by Brett Leshen that was aided by a Comet error.
Lang was the victorious pitcher for North Polk. He threw seven scoreless innings, giving up five hits and just one walk and striking out six in an iron-man relief outing.
"All the credit goes to my defense pretty much," Lang said. "We had all of those plays at home, plus just two errors in 13 innings, which was huge."
Hadaway went 2-for-6 and Lang, Cory, Schiltz, Greene, Hillebo and Wyatt Houge each finished with one hit for the Comets on offense. North Polk failed to take full advantage of six Albia errors and Middleton said he is hoping for better hitting with runners in scoring position when the Comets take on Kuemper Catholic tonight at 8 p.m. back at Principal Park.
"We have to do a better job of concentrating on driving a baseball into a gap, on a line or at least hard on the ground with a man on second or third base," Middleton said. "We were all disappointed in the dugout because we were constantly popping up, but you know we hadn’t played for almost a week. Some of our guys got a lot of at-bats here tonight, so hopefully that’ll help."
Sanders took the loss for Albia. He surrendered one earned run on three hits with two strikeouts and one walk in four innings.
Gray was the staring Blue Demon hurler and he gave up one unearned run on five hits with four walks and two strikeouts in nine innings. Gravert finished 3-for-6 at the plate, Brett Leshen and Gray both had two hits and Osing, Bryce Leshen and Austin Luse chipped in one hit apiece.
North Polk 2, Albia 1 (13)
NP 000 100 000 000 1 – 2 8 2
A 100 000 000 000 0 – 1 10 6
NP: Jacob Hadaway, Grant Lang (7) and Lang, Grant Schiltz (7)
A: Ethan Gray, Victor Sanders (10) and Gabe Gravert
2B: NP – Lang, Clay Cory; A – Gray, Brett Leshen
3B: A – Gravert