Courier Staff Writer
To say Gabe Gravert hadn't really gotten into the swing of the baseball season was an understatement.
Not anyone could blame the senior catcher considering that just 24 hours earlier he wasn't standing at a plate. He was standing on the pitch with the rest of the Blue Demons' boys soccer squad.
Unfortunately for Gravert, Wednesday night saw his final soccer season end in a heartbreaking way as Albia dropped a stunning 2-1 substate semifinal decision at home to Bondurant-Farrar. Whether it was early-season rust or a mental hangover, Gravert had done almost nothing on Thursday through seven innings against Van Buren.
Nothing, that is, until his final swing. That two out stroke sent a Robby Laughlin two-out pitch into the right center field gap and easily brought home Christian Summers from second base once it hit the ground.
And once Summers crossed home plate, Albia had completed a pretty amazing comeback for the first week of the high school baseball season. Down 5-0 after five innings, the Blue Demons scored three runs with their final out to force extra innings before winning the game on a swing by a player who admittidly did not want to be stepping up to the plate in that situation.
"When I was on deck, I told Austin (Luse) that I didn't want to be up with two outs and a runner at second," Gravert said after stepping up with a two-out hit to drive in Summers from second. "When I got up there, I need to put this in a gap so that's what I did."
The hit made Gravert feel a lot better after the bitter season-ending soccer loss on Wednesday. More then anything, the senior catcher had to deal with the physical toll on Thursday of playing two different sports on back-to-back nights at a high level.
"I was definately sore from playing the other night. It was tougher from that aspect," Gravert said. "There's no doubt I was probably a little sore mentally too having that season end like that."
For most of the night on Thursday, things didn't go much better for Gravert's baseball team. Van Buren rode another strong pitching start as sophomore Garrett Saunders followed junior Robert Laughlin's opening night effort against West Burlington by tossing five scoreless innings against the Blue Demons.
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Saunders and Laughlin also took care of all the offensive production for the Warriors as well as both came up with two-RBI doubles in the fourth and fifth innings to open a 4-0 lead for Van Buren. Laughlin followed Saunders' two-RBI hit with a single to bring in the sophomore hurler to give the Warriors a seemingly-comfortable 5-0 lead.
"We pitched well with Garrett on the hill, but you can't take anything for granted in the game of baseball," Scott said. "Every out is like a million bucks in the game of baseball."
What had been frustration for most of the night suddenly turned into good fortune for Albia hitters, but only after Austin Luse was tagged out trying to score on Griffin Osing's RBI single that finally broke up Saunders' shutout bid. Van Buren then committed three errors over the next two innings, allowing Albia to score four unearned runs including three in the seventh with two outs that culminated when Drew Schofield just dunked a single over Laughlin into left field to tie the score at 5-5.
"I was back pedaling to the plate that whole time watching that from third," Luse said after a three-hit night to lead the Blue Demons. "I did not know if that was going to land in or not, but I'm sure glad it did."
Van Buren (1-1) had little time to bounce back after giving away their first loss of the season. Besides facing a hot-swinging Cardinal team in conference play Friday, the Warriors travel to Bloomfield Saturday with 3A's Keokuk awaiting the five-time Southeast Iowa Superconference South champions at high Noon.
"We got a little sideways late in the game, but it's a good learning experience for a young team," Scott said. "We don't use youth as an excuse. We've built a tradition of success with this program. Hopefully we can take this and work harder for the next time out."
Albia (2-2) will have most of Memorial Day Weekend off after a busy opening weekend. Memorial Day is the only day the Blue Demons will have to work as Albia heads to Oskaloosa's Tournament to open with traditional 1A powerhouse Martensdale-St. Mary's, known most recently for having a national-record challenging 88-game winning streak going last season.
"This team has the ability to gel into a pretty darn good team before this season is out," Albia head coach Boyd Brittan said. "That's four games in three days against what you would have to call pretty excellent competition, but we really look forward to next week with six games starting with St. Mary's."
"They don't have that big streak on their back anymore, but hopefully we put a streak of our own together," Luse added.
Albia 6, Van Buren 5 (8)
V.B. 000 230 00 — 5 6 3
Albia 000 002 31 — 6 9 1
Van Buren battery — Garrett Saunders (7IP, 8H, 5R, ER, 3K, 2BB) and Robby Laughlin (L, 1-1) (2/3IP, H, R, ER, BB), Noah Whitten catching.
2B — Laughlin, Saunders.
Hits — Laughlin 2-4, Saunders 1-3, Whitten 1-3, Robert Barker 1-4, Brandon Plecker 1-4.
RBI — Laughlin 3, Saunders 2.
Runs — Saunders 2, Austin Bartholomew, Thomas Fitzsimmons, Plecker.
Albia battery — Victor Sanders (5IP, 4H, 5R, 5ER, 2K, 3BB) and Ethan Gray (W, 1-0) (3IP, 2H, 4K), Gabe Gravert catching.
2B — Austin Luse 2.
Hits — Luse 3-4, Griffin Osing 2-4, Christian Summers 1-3, Gray 1-4, Gabe Gravert 1-4, Drew Schofield 1-4.
RBI — Osing 2, Gravert, Schofield.
Runs — Gray, Gravert, Luse, Osing, Hugh Sinclair, Summers.