DES MOINES —
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.”