Comets lose 2A title game to Trailblazers, 2-1

DES MOINES – Oh so close.

The North Polk baseball team was just three outs away from claiming its first state championship Saturday in the Class 2A championship game against Beckman Catholic at Principal Park in Des Moines.

The Comets took a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the seventh inning, a rematch of last year’s 2A state title game. But in the seventh, Beckman Catholic was able to load the bases and then push two runners across via walks to hand North Polk an a painful 2-1 loss.

"We did everything we needed to do to win up until the end," North Polk head coach Dave Middleton said. "The team that played the best won. That’s the bottom line."

It was the fourth time in as many tries North Polk came up empty in a state championship game. Last year the Comets also fell to Beckman Catholic in the title game, losing by a 3-1 score.

This year’s championship game saw Lady Luck frown on North Polk in the top of the fourth inning. All-state ace pitcher Jacob Hadaway suffered an ankle injury trying to steal second base and he was carted off the field and taken to the hospital by ambulance.

With their star pitcher out of commission, it would have been easy for the Comets to fold right there. But leading by one run, they instead refocused and No. 2 pitcher Grant Lang came in and gave his team three outstanding innings to maintain the slim advantage going into the final frame of regulation.

"It gave us something to rally for," Middleton said. "Our kids were good enough to win that baseball game with the guys we had out there. We just had to take care of things that last inning, and unfortunately we didn’t."

In the bottom of the seventh, Michael Boeckenstedt drew a leadoff walk and Connor Klostermann followed with an infield single for Beckman Catholic. After a Todd Engelken sacrifice bunt, the Trailblazers had runners on second and third with just one out.

Knowing that it was going to be tough to get two outs without Beckman Catholic pushing across the tying run, Middleton decided to intentionally walk the Trailblazers’ Adam Noethe to load the bases. That gave North Polk an out at every base and also a chance to end the game on a double play.

Facing Beckman Catholic’s Nathan Digmann, Lang battled and battled to try and get the pivotal second out. The count ran full and then Lang was off a little on a pitch to walk Digmann, which drove in courtesy runner Eric Boeckenstedt with the tying run.

Mitch Steger then stepped up to the plate for Beckman Catholic. With the momentum all on his team’s side, Steger drew another bases-loaded walk to push across Klostermann with the winning run.

Lang took the loss as he allowed two earned runs on two hits with four walks and two strikeouts in 3 1/3 innings.

"Honestly, I think he pitched a heck of a game," Cory said. "It was just that one bad inning."

Middleton was quick to point out that it wasn’t the fault of his pitcher or the error-free defense behind him that left the Comets short of a state title.

"We had some base-running boo-boos that didn’t help us," Middleton said. "You’ve got to put pressure on them and we weren’t able to do that. It’s hard to put a kid on a tight rope by giving him only one run. You’ve got to score runs."

North Polk’s only run came quickly.

In the top of the first inning, Reed Smith belted a one-out double when Engelken was unable to come up with a diving catch in left field. Smith moved to third on a single by Russell Greene and then Brandon Cory drove him in with a ground out to shortstop.

The Comets came just inches away from getting the timely hit they needed in the sixth and seventh innings.

In the top of the sixth Austin Hillebo hit a leadoff single, took second on a sacrifice bunt from Grant Schiltz and moved to third on a grounder by Smith. Russell Greene then came up and nearly ripped a double to right field to score Hillebo, but the ball landed just foul and Greene ended up going down on strikes for the final out.

In the Comet half of the seventh, Cory drew a leadoff walk and moved to second on bunt from Cole Jackson. Then like Greene the previous inning, Lang just missed on a double to right field with two outs that would’ve knocked in another run.

Instead Lang was retired on strikes to keep the Comet lead at one run going into the bottom of the seventh.

North Polk also had two runners caught trying to steal second and another picked off at first.

For the game the Comets finished with three hits as Smith doubled and Greene and Hillebo each singled once. Cory, Hadaway, Lang and Wyatt Houge each walked once.

Hadaway tossed three scoreless innings with three strikeouts and one walk before going down with his devastating injury. He got out of a bases-loaded jam with one out in the first inning by striking out Michael Boeckenstedt and getting Klostermann to ground out to Greene at shortstop.

"It would’ve been nice to have him out there (all seven innings)," Middleton said. "He’s worked his tail off for Lord knows how many years. It’s just a sad day all the way around."

North Polk finished the season at 31-5 after going 31-4 a year ago.

The sting of the championship game loss was hurting on Saturday. But the Comet senior class will be able to reflect on a remarkable run that included four Heart of Iowa Conference championships and three straight trips to state.

"I’m definitely happy with that," Cory said.

Beckman Catholic ended up 36-6. Trailblazer pitcher Joey Lehmann concluded a 13-0 season on the mound by tossing a three-hitter with eight strikeouts and four walks.

Beckman Catholic 2, North Polk 1

NP 100 000 0 – 1 3 0

BC 000 000 2 – 2 3 0

NP: Jacob Hadaway, Grant Lang (4) and Lang, Grant Schiltz (4)

BC: Joey Lehmann and Tyler Knepper

WP: Lehmann

LP: Lang

2B: NP – Reed Smith