DES MOINES —
One hit in four at-bats with one RBI.
That was Wyatt Johnson’s offensive contribution to third-ranked North Polk’s baseball season entering Thursday.
That didn’t stop Comet head coach Dave Middleton from calling the sophomore’s number in the seventh inning of a tied Class 2A State Semifinal against defending state champion Davis County. With the game and a berth in the state title game on the line, Middleton sent Johnson in for his fifth at-bat of the year against reigning Iowa Player of the Year Calvin Mathews.
“We just played a hunch,” Middleton said of the decision. “He’s been crushing the ball well in batting practice. I just told him to find one he liked.”
Johnson found the one he — and all of northern Polk County — would grow to love on the fourth pitch he saw from Mathews. The Comet pinch-hitter turned a 2-1 pitch into a sharp two-out RBI single down the left field line, bringing in pinch runner Kory Gioffredi with the run that ended the title reign of the top-ranked Mustangs.
North Polk ensured there will be a new top team in Class 2A Saturday. The Comets will play for that state title after defeating Davis County, 2-1, Thursday afternoon at Principal Park in Des Moines.
“I always tell the kids they have to believe in themselves,” Middleton said. “If you believe in yourself, the team and the community will believe in you too.”
No. 3 North Polk (31-4) will play in Saturday’s first of four championship games in Des Moines at noon, as the Comets face second-ranked Dyersville-Beckman, who also pulled out a late 6-3 semifinal win earlier Thursday over No. 10 Carroll Kuemper. While the Comets celebrated a championship game berth, Davis County was left to deal with a stunning end to their bid for a second straight state title.
“It really hasn’t dawned on me too much yet, but it’s pretty sad,” senior second baseman Jacob Davidson said after Thursday’s game. “I’ve played with these guys all my life. It’s going to be sad not to play with them next season.”
Davidson, who is likely to be one of several Mustang players to earn all-state honors next week, finished with team-best .519 batting average after leading the Mustangs with two hits on Thursday. The lead-off hitter also scored his state-leading 62nd run in the first inning after beating out an infield single before coming home to tie the game at 1-1 on Josey Garmon’s RBI single.
That, however, would be the only run Davis County would get off North Polk starting pitcher Grant Lang. The sophomore hurler continued to make his head coach look like a genius, improving to 8-1 while scattering five Mustang hits over six innings of solid work.
“We’re not a team that has to rely on one or two pitchers. We feel like guys that have helped get us here deserve a chance to help us keep advancing,” Middleton said. North Polk now has both unbeaten pitchers Jacob Hadaway and Noah Pickard available for the state title game.
From the very outset on Thursday, things seemed to be working against the Mustangs in an uncharacteristic way. North Polk struck early against Mathews, who hadn’t given up a run on the mound in his last four appearances at state, thanks largely to an innocent fly ball that Josey Garmon misplayed off the bat.
After taking just a few steps in, Garmon suddenly had to charge and dive for a ball hit by Reed Smith in left. The ball dropped in, allowing Smith to reach second on a gift double. Pickard then drove home Smith by reaching out for an off-balance RBI single.
“It just seemed like there were a lot of errors that got to us at the wrong time,” Mathews said after the one and only loss of his senior season. “It just seemed like we all got in a slump at the wrong time. We left so many guys in scoring position at the plate. That’s the way baseball goes sometimes.”
“It just didn’t seem like we brought our A-game with us,” Davidson added.
Mathews, who owns most of the school records for pitching at Davis County, finished the day with 12 strikeouts to help work through six North Polk hits through six innings. Just as they did Saturday in a 1-0 win over Alta-Aureila, Davis County seemed poised to strike in the bottom of the sixth for a tiebreaking run after Mathews’ courtesy runner Jacob Jones reached second with one out.
Then, things started breaking for North Polk, starting with a little deception. Lang faked a pickoff throw to second and his middle defense acted as though the throw had gotten away into centerfield.
Jones broke quickly for third base, but was easily thrown out by Lang — who had the ball in his hand the whole time.
“Sometimes you pull that first chute and noting comes out, so you have to pull your second chute and hope that works,” Middleton joked.
That unlikely defensive play was followed by another in the top of the seventh. Josh Martsching, one of the Mustangs’ surest fielders, threw high to first on a groundball hit by Wyatt Houge. Geoffredi, who also has been rarely used this season by Middleton, pinch ran and scored just ahead of a throw by Garmon on Johnson’s pinch-hit single two batters later.
“They’re still kids and they’re still going to make mistakes,” Davis County head coach Todd White said. “Things like that happen in baseball all the time.”
Hadaway, who hasn’t given up an earned run all year, gave up a two-out single to Park Mikels before striking out Austin Roberts to end the Mustangs’ fantastic season at 42-2. The loss also ends the career for several Davis County seniors, including Mathews, Martsching, Clint Foster, Garmon, Davidson, Clayton Kincart, Hunter McClure, Austin Roberts and Mason Altheide — all who helped bring the Mustang baseball program to new heights.
“Obviously, they’ve laid a pretty good groundwork,” White said. “They’ll certainly be tough to replace.”
CLASS 2A STATE SEMIFINALS
No. 3 North Polk 2, No. 1 Davis County 1
N.P. 100 000 1 — 2 7 1
D.C. 100 000 0 — 1 6 3
North Polk battery — Grant Lang (W, 8-1) (6IP, 5H, R, ER, 3K, BB, HBP) and Jacob Hadaway (S, 4) (IP, H, K), Grant Schiltz catching.
2B — Reed Smith.
Hits — Clay Cory 2-3, Wyatt Houge 2-3, Wyatt Johnson 1-1, Smith 1-2, Noah Pickard 1-3.
RBI — Johnson, N. Pickard.
Runs — Kory Gioffredi, Smith.
Davis County battery — Calvin Mathews (L, 13-1) (7IP, 7H, 2R, ER, 12K), Calvin Utt catching.
Hits — Jacob Davidson 2-3, Park Mikels 1-2, Austin Roberts 1-2, Josey Garmon 1-3, Josh Martsching 1-3.
RBI — J. Garmon.
Runs — Davidson.
DES MOINES —
One hit in four at-bats with one RBI.
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