The third time was a charm for Humboldt.
The 10th ranked Wildcats, who fell twice to the Lions in close games during the conference season, held on for a 4-3 victory in the District final played Monday night in Clear Lake. The Lions, who were ranked third in Class 3A as the post-season began and were looking poised to defend their State title, ended the season with a 30-6 record.
There was plenty of defense early in the game. In the first and second innings Humboldt pitcher Brenden Schnell got out of jams with key strikeouts. In the first the Lions had runners on first and third with one out and were denied. At their next at bat, the Lions’ Jacob Hogan doubled, but was tagged out at third and again Schnell pitched his way out of trouble.
Likewise, Humboldt led off the first and second innings with doubles, but pitcher Brandon Tofte and the Lion defense kept the Wildcats from scoring.
Humboldt finally jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the fifth when Nick Laing lifted a two-run homer over the left field fence, just out of the reach of Parker Truesdell.
On the first pitch in the bottom of the fifth, pinch hitter Matt Stephany quickly cut the lead in half with a home run. The Lions kept the pressure on with Devin Uhlenhopp reaching base on a one-out single. He advanced to second on a wild pitch. Clean-up hitter Pete Swenson walked on four pitches, giving the Lions runners at first and second with two outs, but the Wildcats got out of the jam.
Humboldt started off the sixth with a double and eventually brought in a run on a sacrifice fly, making the score 3-1.
The Lions continued to claw their way back in the sixth. Jacob Hogan bounced a grounder off the pitcher and reached first safely. Pinch runner David Vohs advanced on a line drive base hit off the bat of Tofte and designated hitter Ben Mason delivered a base hit up the left side to load the bases with no outs.
The stage was set for action in the inning, as Humboldt sent in Chris Witzke to relieve Schnell and Lion’s Coach Seth Thompson brought in Zach Tatum to run for Tofte and opted for Tucker Tusha to pinch hit for Rowdy Yates.
A wild throw to third by the Wildcat’s catcher scored Vohs and advanced Tatum to third and Dustin Huey, running for Mason, at second. Another wild play ensued, but this time it was Humboldt coming out on top as Tusha’s bunt was fielded by the pitcher and he was thrown out at first. A quick throw to second caught the runner and there were quickly two out. A ground out ended a promising inning for the Lions, still down 3-2.
Humboldt added an insurance run in the top half of the seventh, using a double and base hit to score.
Lion’s fans couldn’t help but think of last years’ post-season comebacks which took the team all the way to a championship as the team was three outs away from elimination. And just like they have done before, the Lions found ways to get on the base paths. Devin Uhlenhopp opened the inning with a walk, followed by a line drive base hit to left field by Brock Adams. A pop fly from Pete Swenson advanced Uhlenhopp to third and a fly ball to center field from Mitch Keeran made the score 4-3 with two outs.
But that’s where the magic ended. A strikeout ended the game with the Lions one-run short.
Humboldt scored its four runs on eight hits. Half of the Wildcats’ hits were doubles. Humboldt stranded four runners and committed one error.
The Lions collected 10 hits and stranded nine. They also committed one error. Hogan and Tofte had two hits apiece to lead the Lions.
On the mound, Tofte struck out three and walked one in the loss.
“We knew this was going to be a battle, having played Humboldt twice in two very hard-fought games in conference play this year. So it was not a surprise that this was a game that went down to the last strike. They are a very good team with probably the best pitching staff in Class 3A, and unfortunately on this particular night when all the dust settled in what was a pretty crazy game they came away with one more run and the win, said Clear Lake coach Seth Thompson. “In District baseball you just never know what is going to happen on a given night when you have teenagers playing a game with so many opportunities to make mistakes in such a high-pressure, high-stakes atmosphere. Some nights it’s just not meant to be, and when the other team’s nine-hitter, who has never hit a home run in his entire career, hits a curveball inches over the fence with a guy on first base and two outs, maybe tonight was one of those nights.”
The Lions say good-bye to two seniors, Pete Swenson and Alex Webb.
“I told the kids after the game though that they still have a lot to be proud of-- no Clear Lake Lion team had ever won 30 games until three years ago, and now they have accomplished that feat three years in a row and brought home a state championship. So they have a lot to be proud of despite a tough loss tonight,” added Thompson.
Humboldt (23-6) will take on ninth ranked Algona in Wednesday’s Sub-State game. The Bulldogs escaped with an 8-7 victory over Gilbert Monday night.
CL 9, Webster City 2
Clear Lake advanced to the District finals with a 9-2 win over Webster City Friday, July 18, at Lion’s Field.
The game was actually much closer than the score indicates. Clear Lake, which split with Webster City during the regular season, held only a 3-2 lead through five and one-half innings. But the Lions erupted for six runs in the sixth and cruised to the victory from there.
“Any win in the postseason is huge, and against a Webster City team that has some really nice players and has been playing well of late, it was nice to see us keep applying the pressure to their defense the entire game and end up reaping the rewards of that pressure with a six-run sixth inning to take some of the pressure off Brock on the mound,” said Coach Seth Thompson.
Brock Adams threw a complete game, allowing just three hits. He struck out seven and walked two.
Webster City took a 1-0 lead in the second inning, helped by a Lion error. However, Clear Lake put two on the board in the fourth after loading the bases with two singles and a walk. A run scored when starting pitcher Seth Crouthammel walked Mitch Keeran. Then, with two outs, a throwing error to third by relief pitcher Daniel Halko put the score at 2-1.
The Lions began to cushion their lead in the fifth with another run, but in the top of the sixth the Lynx plated another run to pull within a run, 3-2.
The sixth inning was a long one for the Lynx, as Halko walked four straight. A Lynx error and hits from Mitch Keeran and Jacob Hogan helped to push six runs across in the inning.
Webster City pitchers issued nine walks in the game.
“It was nice to see us stay disciplined at the plate when their pitchers were struggling to find the strike zone,” said Coach Thompson.
The Lions scored their nine runs on six hits.
Keeran led the way with two hits, including a double, finishing with four RBIs. Adams also helped himself with a pair of hits. He scored three times for the team. Parker Truesdell, Devin Uhlenhopp, Jacob Hogan, Ben Mason and Matt Stephany also had hits in the game for the Lions. Hogan’s hit brought in two Lion runs.