By ANDY HEINTZ Courier sportswriter, @heintz23
---- — FAIRFIELD – The Van Buren baseball team used strong pitching performances by Tyson Sprouse and Robby Laughlin to defeat IMS 5-2 Saturday in the Class 1A, District 8 bracket finals.
The victory puts the Warriors just one win away from advancing to the Class 1A state tournament for the first time in the program's history.
Sprouse, in the freshman's pitcher's first postseason start, seemed unaffected by the intensity that defines the playoffs. In five and a third innings, he allowed two runs on six hits while striking out seven. By the sixth inning, however, the freshman hurler's energy had begun to wane.
After Sprouse retired the first batter of the inning, IMS loaded the bases with three straight hits. The parade of singles induced a pitching change, as Robby Laughlin replaced Sprouse on the mound. Laughlin managed to navigate his way out of the inning, but not after IMS had already hung two runs on scoreboard.
But, in the seventh, Laughlin closed out the game for the Warriors by striking out two and getting IMS's Lane Schrock to ground out to him for the final out of the game.
Van Buren manufactured its first two runs in the bottom of the third inning off one single, an IMS error, a hit batter and a walk. The Warriors next three runs came in the bottom of the fifth in an inning festooned with RBI doubles from Garrett Saunders and Sprouse.
The Warriors (23-5) face Preston at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Iowa City West in the substate finals.