With the 10-0 win Tuesday night, the Warriors advance to the 2A State Tournament at Des Moines' Principal Park, with their first round game to be Saturday at 6 p.m. vs. Davis County, Bloomfield, the 41-1 defending state champion and the same team that knocked A-A off in a 100-degree opening round contest last year. Alta-Aurelia is the seven seed, Davis County the two seed. The winner plays Thursday next week at 2 p.m. against the winner of North Polk (29-4) and Forest City (21-8). The final will be Saturday, July 28 at noon, with top seed Beckman, Dyersville among the teams lurking in the opposite side of the bracket.
Counting Alta's trip in 2009 prior to consolidation, the team will mark their third trip to State in four years.
For HWC, it was a game of too little, too late Tuesday night. They scratched several extra-base hits off senior Jaden Holton, but often with two out, stranding runners inning after inning.
The Wolfpack threatened with two on and two out in the first inning but Holton fielded a weak ground ball from the next batter and made the throw for the third out. In the bottom half, AA senior Jalen Henningsen coaxed a walk, then quickly stole second and advanced to third on the Warriors' second out. A.J. Lange poked a liner to bring Henningsen home with the first run of the game. Lange stole second, but a strikeout ended the inning 1-0.
In A-A's half of the second, Alex Stephan legged out a hit, and Ross Friedrich cranked an RBI single down the foul line to drive in a run. James Curbow rifled one off the fence for an RBI double to make it 3-0. After another steal, Henningsen drove in a run to make it 4-1.
In the top of the third, HWC's Davis Fenchel drove a ball to the warning track, and with a momentary fielding bobble, pulled in with a two-out triple, only to become the third Wolfpack runner to be stranded in as many innings. The Warriors' Lange got on via an error to lead off their half, and promptly stole second. An Austin Delp single moved Lange to third, and a Stephan hit drove in Lange as Delp moved to third, prompting a HWC timeout to replace struggling starting pitcher Collin Faber. Marcus De Jager, who had thrown only 35 innings on the year, came on to pitch with no one out as Faber took over catching. A strikeout, a tag of a runner caught between third and home, and a popup stopped the bleeding and ended the inning with the Warriors up 5-0.
Holton recorded back-to-back strikeouts, his first K's, to start the fourth. HWC managed a double with two out, but again A-A gobbled up a ground ball to strand him. Alta-Aurelia brought up the top of the order in the bottom of the fourth, and leadoff hitter Holton spanked out a single and took second on an errant pitch. Neal Marshall's ground ball took a wicked hop behind a bag and scooted away from a fielder, allowing Holton to score and Marshall to take second, going on to third on a out. A looping hit to center from Delp brought Marshall home. Delp stole second, but a called strike three ended the inning, 7-0.
Delp beat out a throw to first to lead off the bottom of the sixth, and stole second. A wild pitch let Delp dive into third. HWC tried to get the out at the plate as Stephan put the ball in play, but Delp scored on a bad throw, and Stephan took third. A ground ball through left by Jayson VanHaaften put Stephan on third, and Friedrich lifted a low pitch into the outfield to bring in anothe run. A Curbow grounder resulted in VanHaaften being thrown out at the plate, but Curbow got on via fielder's choice and went on to second on the throw attempt to the plate. Moments later, a lazy pop up looked certain to end the inning, but the ball dropped out of the glove of HWC second-baseman Colton Van Otterloo, allowing a hustling Friedrich to score, ending the game suddenly by 10-run rule.
Coah Dan Wendel called the win "unbelievable," citing the resilience of his team, powered by a core of eight seniors. "It's been an up and down season at times, but they found a way to put it together... they made the plays when they needed to tonight."
For several of the seniors, going on to State is an homage to a tradition of excellence they saw from older teammates early in their high school days.
"We know how to get there," said Holton, who admitted to not having "his best stuff" and credited his teammates' defense in Tuesday's outing. "They came up huge again.
"It's a great feeling," fellow senior Delp added. "We battled throughout the whole season, now it feels good to go on this run."
"Western's a great team," said Henningsen. "Give a lot of credit to them, but we're on a hot streak right now and the job's not finished."
"It's just an awesome feeling," said Marshall. "We got hot at the right time. Look what happens."
"We're looking forward to it," said Wendel. "We have a chance to make some noise down there. We're experienced. I told them to rely on that."
Alta will enter State play at 23-10, adding HWC to a postseason hit list that includes Okoboji, Sioux Central and North Union. The Wolfpack end their season 15 and 15.