Courier Staff Writer
DES MOINES — Van Buren freshman Tyson Sprouse was understandably neverous moments before taking the stage at the state baseball tournament.
Perhaps that’s putting it mildly.
“I was about ready to puke before the game,” Sprouse said. "I was just ready to get out there and pitch."
How his stomach wasn’t churning in the moments after the Warriors first state baseball game is anybody’s guess. Sprouse was not only the first ever Van Buren pitcher to start a state tournament game, he became a big part of Van Buren baseball history as a part of several major moments in what proved to be one of the more memorable games in either Van Buren or state baseball tournament history Saturday night.
From allowing two runs in the opening inning to fourth-ranked Don Bosco to open the final Class 1A State Baseball Quarterfinal to drawing a bases-loaded RBI walk to even the score in the bottom of the frame. From being pulled after a dropped fly ball in deep right brought in the last of three tiebreaking runs in the sixth inning to put the Dons back on top to hitting a sharp grounder to second base that would have proven to be the final out of Van Buren’s season had it been handled properly.
Instead, a bobble by Don Bosco second baseman Dylon Rhoads and hastly-made recovery throw that pulled first baseman Alex Bagby off of the base, giving Sprouse a chance to keep his team alive. A head first slide avoided a tag by Bagby, and started a chain of events that ended several minutes later with Robert Barker being hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to bring in the winning run and complete an unbelievable comeback for Van Buren in their state tournament debut.
Final score, 6-5 Warriors in eight innings. Somehow, someway, Van Buren is moving on to Thursday afternoon’s 1A State Semifinals.
“This team just fights and scratches and claws. That’s always been a characteristic of our team,” Warriors head coach Chad Scott said after watching his Warriors score four unearned runs in the final two innings aided by six of Don Bosco’s seven errors. “We’ve had rallies in the seventh inning before. Maybe not quite like that, but this team never gives up.”
“I’ll admit, I’ve never quite seen anything like those last couple of innings.”
The head coach of the Warriors wasn’t alone.
“I have really never been a part of any game where you are down to your last strike and you get back in with the other team committing four errors like that,” junior Robby Laughlin, who picked up the win in relief of Sprouse, said. “That’s one of the craziest things I have ever seen.”
Van Buren spent the entire night bouncing back after Don Bosco hit Sprouse hard in the opening frame. Rhoads, starting pitcher Tyler Backes and Bagby strung together the three straight hits with Backes tripling in Rhoads before scoring on Bagby’s first of three straight singles to put the Dons up 2-0 in a rough introduction to the state atmosphere for the Warriors.
But Backes would be much kinder to Van Buren hitters in the bottom of the inning, serving up the first three of his six walks. A Barker RBI single and Sprouse’s RBI bases-loaded walk evened the score at 2-2 after one.
“I was a little bit on the ropes in that first inning, but we came right back at them,” Sprouse said. “That kind of shut them down for a while.”
“Anytime you get hit, you want to get right back up and hit right back,” Scott added.
Backes only lasted one more full inning before giving way to Travis Havel in the third. The junior Don hurler allowed no Warrior runs for the next four innings as the game remained tied from the first inning until the sixth, when Backes struck back at the plate with a lead-off double that sparked the three-run rally that spelled the end of Sprouse’s night.
“I was just praying after that inning that we’d find a way to win this game at that point,” Sprouse said.
After going quietly in the sixth, Van Buren entered the final inning three outs from going home with one game and one loss in their state tournament debut. Will Mertens, who dropped the deep fly in right to allow an extra two runs to score on what proved to be Sprouse’s last ball thrown on the hill, instead began what would prove to be the unreal theme to the final chapter of Van Buren’s state tourney opener by reaching first on a groundball that was bobbled at short.
Garrett Saunders doubled in Mertens to cut the lead to 5-3. After Laughlin grounded out and Barker hit a sacrifice fly, Noah Whitten reached for a fourth straight time with two outs to keep the game going while allowing Austin Fett to run the bases for a fourth time in a row.
This trip would be the most memorable as Sprouse hit an 0-2 grounder that he dove in to beat out at first after the bobble at second. Fett immediately took off for third, forcing a throw that got away from the infield and allowed the courtesy runner to get up and come across the plate with the tying run.
“We want to get that run in, but you do want to be smart with that run at the same time and not get him thrown out on the bases,” Scott said. “I thought about stopping him, then I didn’t. It’s one of those that’s got to be a quick decision.”
Even after escaping the jam to get to extra innings and getting a lead-off double by Jake Hogan to start the eighth, Don Bosco’s troubles didn’t stop there. Hogan was thrown out at third on a failed sacrifice bunt sliding off the bag to end the Dons chances of bringing home the go-ahead run.
In the bottom of the eighth, even after a fifth error was erased by a pickoff of Brandon Plecker, the Dons couldn’t stop the unraveling. Another error allowed Mertens to reach second with one out before a Saunders single and fielder’s choice loaded the bases for Barker.
Perhaps fittingly, after a comedy of errors got them back in the game, Van Buren took advantage of one more miscue by Don Bosco. Barker took a ball off his sleeve to earn a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch that brought Mertens home with the first winning run in the history of the Warriors baseball program, earning 25-5 Van Buren a date with No. 3 Van Meter (34-8) in the 1A semifinals at Principal Park at 2 p.m. Thursday while sending Don Bosco home for the year at 28-7.
“To be honest, it didn’t even hit me. It only nicked my shirt,” Barker said. “I don’t even know what I was thinking at that point. I was so jacked.”
“It was insane. I’ve never been through a game like this.”
STATE BASEBALL TOURNAMENT
CLASS 1A QUARTERFINALS
Van Buren 6, No. 4 Don Bosco 5 (8)
Don Bosco 200 003 00 — 5 10 7
Van Buren 200 000 31 — 6 7 1
Don Bosco battery — Tyler Backes (2IP, 2H, 2R, 2ER, 4K, 6BB) and Travis Havel (L, 7-2) (5 1/3IP, 5H, 4R, K, HBP), Tyler Metcalf catching.
2B — Backes, Jake Hogan, Metcalf.
3B — Backes.
Hits — Alex Bagby 3-4, Backes 2-3, Hogan 2-4, Spencer Bruess 1-4, Metcalf 1-4, Dylan Rhoads 1-4.
RBI — Backes, Bagby, Hogan.
Runs — Backes 2, Bagby, Hogan, Rhoads.
Van Buren battery — Tyson Sprouse (5 2/3IP, 8H, 5R, 3ER, 2K) and Robby Laughlin (W, 4-1) (2 1/3IP, 2H, BB), Noah Whitten catching.
2B — Robert Barker, Garrett Saunders.
Hits — Whitten 2-2, Barker 2-3, Saunders 2-4, Laughlin 1-4.
RBI — Barker 3, Saunders, Sprouse.
Runs — Will Mertens 2, Saunders 2, Austin Fett, Laughlin.