Robert Barker scored three runs for the Warriors, who will face IMS on Saturday in Fairfield for the 1A, District 8 championship. Van Buren capped the regular season with a 14-5 win over the Kalona school just 11 nights earlier.
“We have innings where we just can’t hit the ball, and we just can’t have those at this time of year,” Barker said. “We’ve got to hit the ball every inning. If we do, we’ll be fine.”
Barker had one of the biggest hits in changing the momentum of a game that, coming in, didn’t appear as though it would be an trouble for a Van Buren team coming off another successful regular season. Facing a Winfield-Mount Union team with seven wins all season, a 22nd win for the Warriors seemed liked a certainty.
But even after giving up a pair of first-inning runs, the Wolves showed nothing in the postseason comes that easy. Three-straight two-out hits off Van Buren starting pitcher Thomas Fitzsimmons gave WMU an immediate answer in the opening inning as Kole Rossiter’s RBI hit cut the Warrior lead to 2-1.
The Wolves ran themselves out of the rally in the opening inning, but put two more runners on in the second after retiring Van Buren in order. Fitzsimmons needed a clutch strikeout of WMU lead-off hitter Kyle Davis to end that threat, but Wolves starter Travis Jones came back by retiring the first two Van Buren hitters of the third to continue a string of eight-straight Warrior hitters sat down.
That’s when things finally changed and a new string began that changed the game completely.
Sophomore shortstop Garrett Saunders, the last Warrior to reach base off Jones in the two-run first, connected on an innocent single to finally give Van Buren its second hit off the WMU starter. The hit soon turned into a run as a stolen base and a single to center by Robby Laughlin put Van Buren up 3-1.