EDDYVILLE — Nothing to lose.
Go out, play hard and see what happens.
For Thomas Hallgren, Saturday’s varsity doubleheader at Ron Welsch Field came without any pressure for his Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont baseball squad. Central DeWitt, then the second-ranked team in Class 3A, provided the Rockets only with positive opportunities even if both wins went back with the Sabers to northeast Iowa.
In the end, the Rockets nearly lost nothing on Saturday. After pushing Central DeWitt into extra innings in the opening game before falling, 5-4, on a solo home run by Luke Anderson, EBF responded with a thrilling 2-1 walk-off win in game two clinched on a squeeze bunt by Devin Jager that brought Austin Johnson sliding across home plate. The win looked even more impressive on Monday when the latest Iowa High School state baseball rankings were released, showing Central DeWitt as the new No. 1 ranked team in 3A.
“We just kept grinding it out. We kept putting the pressure on all day,” Hallgren said. “Austin’s a smart base runner. He doesn’t have great speed, but Devin can handle the bat and can handle small ball. I felt confident in him being able to put the ball on the ground and giving us a chance.
“I feel like, if you run the squeeze right, you can’t defend it.”
Johnson slid home without a throw even being made, getting a terrific jump off third base with the Sabers playing the infield defense in. Jager executed the bunt perfectly, sending the ball towards first base with only one out giving Central DeWitt no chance to keep the winning run from scoring.
“We work on that quite a bit. We work on several situations to make sure we have everything down,” Jager said. “My biggest concern was just getting the bunt down. That was my first priority. I needed to get the bunt down, not pop it up and allow them to turn it into a double play.”
Jager and Johnson teamed up for both EBF runs in the second game, both coming in clutch situations. Johnson singled to open the second inning, moved up to third on a bunt and a groundout before coming home without a slide when Jager singled into right-center with two outs to put the Rockets (7-3) on top 1-0.
“We knew coming into this week how tough things were going to be for us by the end of it,” Johnson said. “We knew we had the No. 3 (Centerville) and No. 2 (Central DeWitt) teams in 3A coming here to face us. Centerville’s a big rival for us. We really wanted to get that one. Once we got it (a 5-0 EBF win on Thursday), we knew if we played our best we’d have a chance to beat this team (Central DeWitt).”
Johnson not only scored both EBF runs, but was responsible for helping record five of Central DeWitt’s 21 outs in game one. No two were more unique than Johnson’s unassisted double play in which the Rocket third baseman made a shoestring catch of a sinking liner hit by Caiden Muhl in the third inning after a one-out single by Ben Mason.
Mason took off for second base and kept running hoping Johnson had picked the ball off the ground. While Mason raced to third, Johnson raced across the diamond to first base, securing both outs at both corners of the infield without letting go of the baseball.
“In the first game, I couldn’t make a throw. I just thought about everything too much,” Johnson said. “When I caught that ball, I was going to run the ball over to the mound and throw it to first. When I looked at (Mason), I saw he was already around second base, so I figured I’d just run over to first base myself and not even risk a bad throw. I just took care of it myself to get out of that inning.”
Mason would score after walking in the fifth inning to tie the score at 1-1. Ethan Davis, however, preserved the tie by forcing Boomer Johnson to ground out with Anderson stuck at second base before handing the ball over to Kyler Ricard. In relief, Ricard earned the win for the Rockets pitching around a one-out walk to John McConohy in the sixth before retiring the side in order in the seventh.
“Central DeWitt is good. Their top four hitters are good. Their defense is really good. You can tell how much confidence they have,” Hallgren said. “I was happy we competed well in the first game. We got a lead early in game two, played clean all the way through and was able to get it done.
“Baseball is a game where you can’t just rely on athleticism. You have to execute. You have to play the game well. We did that very well this weekend.”