By SCOTT JACKSON Courier sports writer, @stjack423
---- — FAIRFIELD – A lot has changed in the world since the summer of 2002.
For example, if Boyd Brittan was planning on taking the same route that his last team took to get to the state baseball tournament, he’d be leading them a long ways off course. In the 11 years since Brittan’s Blue Demons last played among the elite eight teams left in Class 2A, the tournament has had a change in scenery.
No, the Albia baseball team won’t be returning to the site of their last state baseball appearance in 2002 when the Blue Demons played in Marshalltown back when there were two separate state baseball tournament sites. Every prep baseball team in Iowa that makes it will head to same place they have since 2005, to Principal Park in Des Moines.
But one thing that hasn’t changed 11 years later for Brittan is that no matter where his team’s going to play, he’s just going to enjoy the ride back to state.
“Hey. I don’t have to drive them there,” Brittan joked. “That’s the bus driver’s job to get us there.”
There will be Principal Park. There will be Des Moines. There will be the 2A State Baseball Tournament on Monday night. There will be Albia in the field for the first time since 2002.
The Blue Demons booked their first state baseball ticket in over decade Tuesday night with a 4-1 win over Mediapolis, leading from wire-to-wire to win the Substate 6 Championship. When it was over, there were hugs, celebrations, congratulations and one great big Gatorade bath given to a very emotional head coach who found it hard to put into words what he just watched his team accomplish together.
“I just can’t really say a whole lot more,” Brittan said. “It’s just another great team effort. Just so many outstanding plays. I truly believe this is a team has worked hard, had its problems, worked through them and blended together at the right time.
“I challenged them to when this district started they would decide how far they would go with their own play. They showed that working hard every play from the start to the end.”
Because of that, none of the players were shocked or surprised by what they were able to accomplish in qualifying for state with a win over the 17-9 Bulldogs from the north division of the Southeast Iowa Superconference.
“We knew something big was going to happen this year,” junior third baseman Griffin Osing said. “We knew we were loaded from the beginning. We knew we were. This whole season came around really well. We started out hot, fought through some tough competition and peaked when it mattered. All that matters now is that we’re there.”
Coming off two victories decided on a game-winning play at the plate and a game-winning hit in extra innings, Albia made Tuesday’s game slightly less dramatic by scoring a run in each of the first two innings and never relinquishing the advantage.
Starting pitcher Victor Sanders had a lot to do with that. Already the winning pitcher in those two dramatic one-run wins over PCM and Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont, Sanders had to overcome a first-inning rally by Mediapolis by getting out of a bases-loaded jam before watching as Brett Leshen’s one-out double to right in the bottom of the frame gave the senior hurler a lead to work with.
“The control was a little tough in that first inning. Things like working on a new mound always makes it a little tougher to establish that control,” Sanders said after allowing just one earned run in his second complete-game effort of the postseason. “I’ve been working out of trouble a lot this year. Getting out of trouble again in this game really seemed to boast our confidence early on.”
“Victor bends but he never breaks,” Brittan said of his senior pitcher. “Got to give a lot of credit to Victor.”
Osing helped double that lead for Sanders, twice. In the second, Osing converted his leadoff double into a run by coming home on the back end of a double steal with Jacob Lenger to give Albia a 2-0 lead.
That 2-0 lead held into the fourth as Sanders only faced a potential threat once in the fourth after back-to-back singles by the Bulldogs led off the inning. The senior got the next three outs to end the threat and retired Mepo in order in the fifth.
That’s when Osing stepped up with a runner on and his pitcher showcasing excellent command. In that moment, Osing had a feeling one more hit might be just what was needed to book a trip to Des Moines.
“I really felt like if we could get one more hit, they weren’t going to come back,” Osing said. “It seemed like they were starting to let down a little. It seemed like we just needed one more hit to put them away.”
Osing delivered it in a big way, drilling a two-run homer to left field. Suddenly a two-run lead become 4-0. And suddenly, as he rounded first, Osing lifted his arms to signify the celebration could officially begin for the sea of blue in Fairfield.
“Rounding first, it just felt like finally everything was heading for the better for all of us,” Osing said.
Two innings later, Hugh Sinclair final catch officially kicked off the party and locked up a date for Albia (24-16) with second-ranked North Polk (29-4) Monday night in Des Moines in the 1A State Quarterfinals at 6 p.m.
“It finally feels good to be there (in Des Moines), but it’s still going to be 90-foot base paths. It’s still going to be 60 feet and 6 inches from the mound to home plate,” Osing said. “Everything is still going to be the same. Everything else you can’t control other than hitting the ball, fielding the ball and throwing it.”
Class 2A, Substate 6 Final
Albia 4, Mediapolis 1
Mepo 000 000 1 — 1 7 1
Albia 110 020 x — 4 9 1
Mediapolis battery — Jordan Wagenbach (L, 6-3) (6IP, 9H, 4R, 3ER, 4K, 4BB), Forrest Stellern catching.
Hits — Josh Osborne 2-3, Wagenbach 2-4, Alex Ensminger 1-2, Trevor Phillips 1-3, Brenden Tapp 1-3.
Runs — Ensminger. Albia battery — Victor Sanders (W, 9-2) (7IP, 7H, R, ER, K, 3BB), Gabe Gravert catching.
2B — Brett Leshen, Griffin Osing.
HR — Osing.
Hits — Bre. Leshen 3-4, Gravert 2-3, Osing 2-4, Ethan Gray 1-3, Bryce Leshen 1-3.
RBI — Osing 2, Bre. Leshen.
Runs — Osing 2, Gravert, Hugh Sinclair.