Almost everybody thought that Maquoketa Valley would have to play a perfect game to beat North Linn in district final action played on the Lynx’s home field July 17, but all the Wildcats needed to do was play better than the second-ranked team.
That’s exactly what the Wildcats did, but it helped to have one person in their corner who believed they could win the game by just playing the way they have all year long.
“I know what these guys are capable of and I believed that they could do it,” said Mike Cook, MV coach. “We’ve got three strong seniors who step forward to do whatever we need when it needs to be done and a bunch of other key role players who do their job. They all play the game the right way. Nobody knows these guys better than I do and I knew we were going to win this ball game.”
Win is just what Maquoketa Valley (22-7) did as the Wildcats managed to make plays behind Tony Offerman on the mound after Nathan Bietz drove in Preston Roling with a two-out single in the top of the fourth inning to claim a 1-0 victory over North Linn (34-6).
It was all you’d expect this game to be and more as these two Tri-Rivers Conference warriors battled for the right to keep their playoff dreams alive in the district title game.
Offerman took the ball for the Wildcats and Austin Hilmer, the Lynx’s ace, was firing for the home team.
North Linn was the first team to get a runner into scoring position and had a runner on third, but Offerman struck out Trey McEnany looking to get out of the inning.
In the top of the third, it was the Wildcats’ turn to threaten. Hilmer struck out the first two batters of the inning, but hit Michael Schaul and surrendered a single to Parker Sternhagen that moved Schaul to third. Sternhagen quickly stole second, but Hilmer took care of Offerman as he struck out the side.
Hilmer tried to get a two-out rally going for North Linn in the bottom of the third. After his line-drive single dropped in left field, Hilmer immediately tried to steal second base but was gunned down by Tim Harmon, creating a spark for the Wildcats.
Hilmer returned to the mound and picked up his tempo. The result was a lead-off walk to Roling. Hilmer settled long enough to strike out TJ Cook looking and got Harmon to strike out swinging, but Roling moved up to second on a wild pitch during Harmon’s at-bat. That set the stage for the young Bietz when he hit a single between short and third on the first pitch. Roling scored easily giving Maquoketa Valley the only run they needed to get the win.
“Coach has been telling me to look for that fat fastball and hit it as hard as you can if you get it,” said Bietz, one of two eighth-graders starting for the Wildcats, about his game-winning RBI single. “That’s what he threw me so I hit it.”
From there, it was all Offerman and the Wildcat defense doing their thing. In the fifth inning after a lead-off single by Mason Bechen, Sternhagen tracked down a long fly ball to deep center field and Cook scooped up a ground ball near second, stepped on the bag and tossed the ball to first completing the double play that ended the inning.
Offerman got the side out in order in the bottom of the fifth and, in the sixth, Sternhagen made a diving catch in the gap for the first out. After a single by Cole Griffith, Offerman induced Hilmer into a fielder’s choice to retire Griffith. During Bechen’s at-bat, Offerman was called for a balk which moved Hilmer into scoring position at second. After a visit to the mound by Coach Cook, Offerman got Bechen to pop out to Grimm to get out of the inning.
In the bottom of the seventh, Alex Sturbaum launched a double to the left-field fence that brought the home crowd to their feet. Offerman settled in and started to work his way out of trouble, striking out Corbin Woods looking at a curveball on the outside edge for out number one. Offerman then got Jarin Peyton to hit a soft line drive to Roling at third base for the second out and Cael Bridgewater grounded out to Cook at short to end the game.
“Tony is as calm as they come. Not much fazes him, so I knew he had it in him,” said Coach Cook. “Tony likes to be challenged and he really responded tonight. He had some moments when things got shaky, but I just had to remind him that he was a senior and he had to act like it. He did a great job getting out of that jam in the sixth and then what he did in the seventh after giving up a lead-off double was magic.”
“I just went out there and threw strikes knowing if they hit the ball that my defense would back me up and they did,” said Offerman, who won his second playoff game for the Wildcats during their postseason run. “The deeper we got into the game the more confident I got. I just knew we had this.”
Hilmer was sharp, giving up just one earned run on four hits in his seven innings of work. Hilmer hit one batter, walked one and struck out nine as he ended the season 10-1.
Offerman improved to 7-1 by pitching his second straight complete game in the playoffs. He allowed five hits to North Linn, hit a batter and struck out four. That means his defense had to make 17 plays behind him to close out the game and they did that without making an error.
“This was a total team win, just like it has been all year long,” said Coach Cook. “Nothing has changed for us except for the deeper we go the better the competition is. We just beat one of the best teams in the state, but we aren’t done yet. We still have some work to do.”
With the win, MV advanced to the sub-state final against Lisbon. That game was scheduled for 7 p.m. July 20.