Your Prep Sports
NORTH LIBERTY – Some saw it as a blessing when back-to-back postseason byes moved Liberty High one win from the state tournament without playing a game.
Instead the straight shot to substate title game could have turned into a curse for the Lightning.
Playing for the first time in more than a week Liberty High fell into an early 8-0 hole it could never claw out of in a 12-3 loss to Pleasant Valley in the Class 4A, Substate 5 title game on Wednesday in North Liberty.
“I don’t know (if that was a factor) but here is what I know, they came out and played great and we didn’t play our best game, whether it was because we didn’t play for a week, I don’t know,” Liberty High coach Tom Cronk said. “We did our best as coaches to get ready. There is nothing else you can do. Those are the cards we were dealt, we dealt with them the best we could.”
Pleasant Valley (13-11) scored five runs in the first inning and never let up while qualifying for the state tournament for the second consecutive season.
The Spartans lost five of six games to close the regular season before outscoring opponents 23-7 in three consecutive substate wins.
Pleasant Valley won its substate opener 3-2 over Burlington and defeated third-seeded North Scott 7-2 on Monday.
“It was fun to see our guys start to click,” Pleasant Valley coach Derek Stecklein said. “I’m glad we had Burlington and North Scott, I’m glad we played those games because I think that helped us prepare for tonight.”
Pleasant Valley had eight of its 13 hits in its first two trips to the plate on Wednesday, following up its five-run first inning with a three-run second.
Senior Jack Young tossed six strong innings and seven different Spartans had hits as Pleasant Valley advanced to Wednesday’s 4A quarterfinals at Principal Park in Des Moines.
Liberty High ended the season 10-6.
“I think we had a good season but I didn’t think we were done yet,” Liberty High senior Nolan Frey said. “We had really big goals and I think we could have achieved those goals we just ended before we wanted to.”
Liberty High closed the regular season with an 8-5 win over Marion on July 14.
A scheduling quirk kept the Lightning from playing again for more than a week.
The postseason opener for the Lightning set for three days later against sixth-seeded Muscatine turned into a forfeit after the Muskies had players with possible exposure to COVID-19 virus.
As the top seed in substate 5 the Lighting earned another bye in the semifinals making it an eight-day layoff before Wednesday’s substate final.
“We can scrimmage each other, we can have competitions in practice we even scrimmaged our sophomores but you can’t replace the competitive atmosphere of playing against another team,” Frey said. “It’s different playing another team, you can’t recreate that competitive atmosphere and that really hurt.”
Cronk, who has directed Liberty High to substate semifinal and final appearance in their first two seasons in Class 4A, admitted the biggest concern after a week layoff is being sharp early.
Even after watching that concern play out on Wednesday the Liberty High coach refused to make excuses.
“(The biggest concern) is are you sharp,” Cronk said. “Clearly we weren’t sharp on the mound, we just threw too many balls. We threw bullpens and we scrimmaged each other but it’s not the same atmosphere, it’s not the same intensity and as much as we tried to emulate that it clearly wasn’t enough and it didn’t work out for us.”
The first five Pleasant Valley hitters each came around to score.
Young and Barrett Lindmark drew back-to-back walks to open the game and Seth Clausen followed with a two-run double to right field that put the Spartans up 2-0 three batters in.
Ryan Mumey followed with an RBI single to make to 3-0 and three batters later Carson Albrecht lined a double down the third baseline to make it 5-0.
“We’ve been preparing really well in practice the last week and a half and it showed out of the gate there,” Stecklein said. “We took what they gave us with back-to-back walks and then Seth Clausen and Ryan Mumey put really good swings on it.”
The Spartans had four consecutive singles to open the second inning, pushing their lead to 8-0.
Liberty High got single runs in the third, fourth and fifth but couldn’t gain ground as Pleasant Valley responded with three runs in the fifth.
“It was good to see our guys come out ready to go,” Stecklein said. “They were locked in and engaged with the game and then we kept adding on. They responded a little bit and we didn’t let up.”
Liberty High had nine hits off Young but couldn’t come up with a key hit stranding two runners in the third, fourth and fifth.
Seniors Frey and Tyler Dahm each had two hits to lead Liberty High.
“This definitely isn’t the way we wanted to go out,” Frey said. “We were down but I was thankful for every inning that we got to play.”
It was a disappointing end to what has been a brilliant three-year stretch for the Liberty High seniors.
The group helped the Lightning go from 15-17 in its debut season to 23 wins and substate semifinal a year ago before earning the number one seed in their substate this season.
“Those seniors have put us on the map, I think we are respected around the state,” Cronk said. “You just hate to go out this way when you don’t play your best.”
Pleasant Valley 530 031 0 – 12 13 1
Liberty High 001 110 0 – 3 9 3
W – Jack Young L – Keian Secrist
2B – ICL: Nolan Frey. PV: Seth Clausen, Carson Albrecht