Murken Column: Heartbreaking Ending Shouldn’t Be The Memory of City High’s Return to the State Tournament
Your Prep Sports
For many, the lasting memory of Wednesday’s wild Class 4A state quarterfinal between City High and Dubuque Hempstead will be a chaotic final play.
A towering fly ball down the left field line by Hempstead standout Andrue Henry that dropped for a game-winning two-run double that sent the Mustangs flying onto the field in celebration and City High players slumping to the Principal Park turf in despair.
It’s certainly understandable why that play will be the lingering memory for nearly all of the nearly 1,000 people that watched it unfold.
In a sport that counts every pitch thrown, baseball games are ultimately counted as wins or losses and the first state tournament appearance in 17 years for City High will go down as a 7-6 loss.
However, that final play isn’t a fitting memory for how City High saw its season end on Wednesday.
Not by a long shot.
The same City High team that reached the state tournament with consecutive walk off substate wins had one final rally in them on the state’s biggest stage.
City High overcame an early four-run deficit with five unanswered runs to take a 6-5 lead into the bottom of the seventh inning.
The fight. The attitude. The effort. That’s what I’ll remember when I think about this game.
“We never give up, we are a bunch of fighters,” City High senior third baseman Garrett Bormann said. “We believe in each other and we knew we could comeback. That’s just our mindset we are confident any time.”
I’ve covered thousands of sporting events in my nearly 20-year career.
There was something special about the way City High just kept scratching and clawing its way back into the game on Wednesday.
A team with more sophomores (4), than seniors (3) in its starting lineup didn’t panic when trailing the fourth-ranked team in the state 5-1 after two innings.
A team with one home run in 508 at bats didn’t start trying to get those runs back by swinging for the fences at cavernous Principal Park.
Instead City High stayed true to what it is, a small ball team filled with smart players.
Half of the Little Hawk runs on Wednesday came on ground outs. Another on a throwing error and one more on a bases loaded walk.
In an era where home runs rule City High prides itself on defense, moving runners over and winning with the small things – like toughness.
“We are just a gritty group,” City High coach Brian Mitchell said. “We have a bunch of wrestlers, a bunch of multi-sport kids that are grinders. They really understand being a competitor and they just continued to show that.”
Speaking of grinders what about City High senior Reese Hayden?
Hayden pitched two shutout innings to get the win when City High used a three-run seventh inning to escape against Cedar Rapids Jefferson in its substate opener.
He followed with six scoreless innings in a 4-3 substate final win that sent City High to state for the first time in nearly two decades.
All Hayden did on Wednesday was hold the top offensive team in 4A in check for six innings and get the Little Hawks an out away from the state semifinals.
“I was ready to come in,” Hayden said. “Whatever I had to do I was ready to do to help us win.”
Hayden gave up hits on Wednesday but like the Little Hawks he kept battling, tossing up zeroes in four consecutive innings as City High mounted another postseason rally.
The first attribute mentioned about a pitcher these days is usually velocity.
Hayden is all heart and location. He’s a strike pumper that grinds on smarts and guts as much as miles per hour making him perfect for this City High group.
“The past two games we’ve had to fight just to get here,” City High sophomore shortstop Gable Mitchell said. “We knew we could fight and we knew we could put some at bats together and get some runs it was just a matter of a little bit of luck. But mostly we just fought.”
City High fought all right. All the way back from a four-run deficit.
Call me a homer. That’s fine, but something about the way City High kept on coming on Wednesday stuck with me.
Inevitably when a team makes a late run players will always say they believed all along. I’ve done plenty of those interviews.
Talking to the City High players on Wednesday you could tell they believed those words.
Even after going hitless through four innings and trailing a 15-1 team by four runs the Little Hawks said they never felt as if the game was out of reach, and I believed them.
“First of all, I don’t think anyone thought we would even be here,” Gable Mitchell said. “We knew we could get here and we knew we could come back to be honest.”
The ending for City High on Wednesday was as heartbreaking as any I can recall but that doesn’t define this season for the Little Hawks.
Instead, Hayden and Bormann two of the Little Hawk leaders believe this season will be remembered as a launching point for the program.
“I hope this makes it an expectation to get here and not a once in a lifetime thing,” Hayden said. “I think this becomes the expectation for this program now. They’ll be back.”
“I think this shows younger kids this isn’t an average baseball team,” Bormann said. “This is a baseball team that can go a long way and this should feed confidence and an expectation to the program that we are going to compete at the state tournament each year.”