Parker Sternhagen got on base three times, scored a run, stole three bases and combined with Michael Schaul for a four-hit shut-out of Easton Valley as Maquoketa Valley posted a 3-0 win in its Class 1A District 5 semifinal game in Delhi, July 13.
The Wildcats wasted no time getting on the scoreboard as they took advantage of an early scoring opportunity when Sternhagen, down in the count 1-2, was hit by a pitch with one out. Tony Offerman walked on four straight pitches moving Sternhagen to second. He was immediately replaced by courtesy runner Carter Klaren. Preston Roling laid down what looked like a sacrifice bunt, but no throw was made so the ‘Cats now had the bases loaded with one out. TJ Cook ripped a shot that dropped in deep right field plating Klaren, but Offerman waited to see if the ball would be caught and was shot down at home plate as the Wildcats took a 1-0 lead.
Maquoketa Valley added a run in the third when Sternhagen led off the inning with a hard-hit bouncer to right field. Easton Valley tried to pick him off first, but Sternhagen was already halfway to second and easily stole the bag. After Offerman struck out, Roling drew a walk. On the first pitch to Cook, Sternhagen stole third without a throw. Cook popped out for the second out leaving it up to senior Tim Harmon to get the run home. During Harmon’s at-bat, Ivan Lant, Easton Valley’s pitcher, was called for a balk sending Sternhagen home for a Wildcats’ 2-0 lead.
In the fifth inning, the Wildcats pushed across another insurance run as Roling roped a lead-off double to left. He moved to third on a wild pitch and scored when Cook got the green light on a 3-0 pitch that he bounced to second base for an RBI.
Sternhagen was taking care of business on the mound for Maquoketa Valley, but stumbled a bit in the top of the sixth when Easton Valley took advantage of an error and two walks to load the bases with one out. Sternhagen regained his focus and went to work. He dished a fist-pumping strikeout of Conor Gruver for out number two and then did the same to Porter Fuegen to get out of the inning.
Michael Schaul was called upon to get the final three outs. After giving up an infield single to Ashten Huling, he struck out Hayden Felkey for the first out and got Ayden Huling to pop up to Roling at third. To keep the suspense going, Brig Bormann battled for a walk and then on a 3-2 count to Aidan Gruver, the Wildcats picked off Ashten Huling from second to end the game.
“This was an awesome win for us. To have just one win last year to this, it’s amazing,” said Sternhagen. “This has been such a fun season. I love playing with each of these guys and don’t want it to end.”
“He is such a difficult player to prepare for,” said Mike Cook, head coach of the Wildcats (21-7), about Sternhagen. “He’s a talented lefty who throws with a little bit of heat and can make the ball curve. With the bat, he’s a nightmare. Left-handed speedster who makes a lot of contact. You can’t pitch around him because he’ll hurt you with his legs.”
The Wildcats worked hard to get runners into scoring position in five of their six at-bats, but even though they only scored three runs they applied stress to Easton Valley every chance they had.
“We executed our game plan almost perfectly. Sure I would have liked to have scored more runs, but we put a lot of pressure on their defense to make plays all game long,” said coach Cook. “Parker was strong on the mound and our guys took care of business when they put the ball in play. Things got interesting at the end, but I never lost confidence in this team. Nobody knows this group better than I do and I knew they’d come out with the win.”