Courier Staff Writer
DES MOINES — For so many years, everyone in Class 1A baseball has been looking up at Martensdale-St. Mary’s.
Perhaps no one more so then the Twin Cedars Sabers.
Not on Friday night. Not this year. Not at this Class 1A State Baseball Tournament.
It took two extra innings and lasted until the later hours of Friday night, but the second-ranked squad from Bussey made sure that a new champion will be crowned when the 1A portion of the state baseball tournament has concluded for the first time since 2009. The bid for a fourth straight title by the Blue Devils of Martensdale-St. Mary’s ended just seven minutes before 11 p.m. Friday night at Principal Park in Des Moines as Twin Cedars outlasted MSM 4-1 in a nine-inning 1A state quarterfinal classic.
“It was a special moment and I guess the boys probably don’t understand how special it was until they let it soak in a little,” Twin Cedars head coach Matt Miller said after guiding the Sabers to the program’s first-ever state tournament victory, besting a program known for having so many wins on the same stage. “The kids probably don’t realize how special some of those plays were that they made to win this game, but we made some really special defensive plays. It was a special win.”
“This team is a family in the true sense of the word. It just means that much more when you’ve got a close-knit group like this to share it with.”
The win was especially sweet to so many of the Sabers not just because of the storied history of Martensdale-St. Mary’s, but how the Blue Devils have recently made it to Des Moines to continue that success. Twin Cedars has seen several recent successful seasons come to an thanks to the Blue Devils, who have ended the Sabers own dreams of a first trip back to the state tournament since 2003 in the substate round on the way to claiming their three straight state titles.
“I’ve always considered Martensdale-St. Mary’s to be one of our biggest non-conference rivals,” Twin Cedars senior first baseman Eric Clark said. “It’s always big to beat them. We’ve lost to them for two straight years and to finally come here and beat them here at state is a really great feeling.”
MSM, who also beat Twin Cedars in their only other state appearance 10 years ago, could have added another season-ending chapter of heartbreak to the Sabers baseball history books on Friday. The Blue Devils countered a stellar outing by unbeaten sophomore Saber pitcher Otis Roby with one by junior ace Eddy Kraber, who struck out eight batters while pitching into the ninth.
Twin Cedars owned a brief 1-0 lead when Clark finally broke a scoreless tie in the fifth, scoring on lead-off hitter Coy Moore’s two-out RBI single to right. MSM came right back as Garrett Gehringer delivered his own two-out run-scoring hit to center, bringing in courtesy runner Alex Kim to match the Sabers at 1-1.
The Blue Devils looked for a moment like they might pull off a walk off win. After Kraber drew a lead-off walk, Dylan Gibson smashed a one-out fly ball to deep center that appeared like it might get down and bring home the MSM pitcher with the winning run until Saber centerfielder Brent Parker tracked the ball and made a spectacular catch as he fell to one knee.
Kraber’s attempt to steal second moments later was easily dashed by a laser-like throw from catcher Hunter Embray, forcing the second game of the 2013 Iowa High School State Baseball Tournament to go into extra innings.
“Hunter’s been an awesome catcher for me all year long,” Roby said. “I never have to worry about bouncing a ball all year because he’s been stopping everything. That and throwing out two runners. He’s been a great catcher for us all season long.”
Twin Cedars missed a chance to take the lead in the eighth when Drew Carlson left two runners in scoring position on his third strikeout of the night. After Clark reached on a walk to open the ninth and was moved to second on a sacrifice bunt, a slow grounder hit to third by Levi Jones was thrown over the head of MSM first baseman Tanner Foster, allowing Clark to score his second tiebreaking run of the night.
That run seemed to finally break things open for the Sabers. Moore added his second RBI hit of the night to double the lead and a bases-loaded infield RBI single by Brent Parker added an insurance run off Blue Devil relief pitcher Trent Verwers, making it 4-1 Twin Cedars heading to the bottom of the ninth.
“One-run leads are nice, but two or three-run leads always leave you with a better feeling,” Clark said. “We always try to go for those extra two or three runs whenever we can.”
The three-run cushion proved to be enough. MSM made one last push with a walk and a hit to bring the tying run up with one out. Foster popped out to second and Gibson hit a fly out that Jones corralled to clinch a history-making win for No. 2 Twin Cedars (36-2).
The end result is a new champion must be crowned in Class 1A, leaving six teams to decided that issue. The Sabers and top-ranked Mason City Newman (27-6), an 11-6 winner over Woodbury Central in the opening game of the state baseball tournament, will decide which one will be left to challenge the other four next Saturday afternoon in the state title game.
“The focus now is just on the next game, but I guess everyone now is salivating a little more knowing they have a chance to win it all,” Miller said. “This means a lot for the Twin Cedars program because this was the first Twin Cedars team to win at state. It means a lot for all those alumni that put on the Twin Cedars uniform. We feel like they are just a big a part of this team’s success.”
The other end result of Friday’s classic victory was that, in a rare moment, eighth-ranked Martensdale-St. Mary’s (30-10) was given congratulations by the state for a fantastic season without being award a state title. The accolades of the Blue Devil baseball program that were mentioned along with the season recap soaked in to the Saber baseball players that had just knocked off the three-time state champs.
“It was neat to be on the field for that, especially after losing two years in a row in the substate round,” Moore said. “We’ve been on the other side of that two straight years. To be the ones to knock them off is great.”
STATE BASEBALL TOURNAMENT
CLASS 1A QUARTERFINALS
No. 2 Twin Cedars 4, No. 8 Martensdale-St. Mary’s 1 (9)
T.C. 000 010 003 — 4 9 1
MSM 000 010 000 — 1 5 2
Twin Cedars battery — Otis Roby (W, 12-0) (9IP, 5H, R, ER, 6K, BB, HBP), Hunter Embray catching.
2B — Eric Clark.
Hits — Clark 3-4, Roby 2-4, Coy Moore 2-5, Embray 1-4, Brent Parker 1-5.
RBI — Moore 2, Parker.
Runs — Clark 2, Levi Jones, Moore.
Martensdale-St. Mary’s battery — Eddy Kraber (L, 9-4) (8 1/3IP, 7H, 3R, 2ER, 8K, 3BB) and Trent Verwers (2/3IP, 2H, R, BB), Luke Anetil catching.
2B — Garrett Gehringer.
Hits — Gehringer 2-3, Anetil 1-3, Kraber 1-3, Verwers 1-4.\
RBI — Gehringer.
Runs — Alex Kim.