It's been a rough season for the Cedar Rapids Washington baseball team, with 15 straight losses and a key injury to A.J. Puk, but for a shining moment Thursday night it looked like the Warriors would wipe away their frustration and grab a big victory over the No. 1 team in the state.
The Warriors led 4-0 after four innings and southpaw Grant Dostal was cruising with a no-hitter, keeping the Kennedy hitters off-balance with his assortment of tantalizing pitches that had the Cougars hitting the ball in the air for outs.
It looked like it might be Washington's night, finally, after all the losing and all the disappointment. "No question," said Wash Coach Tony Lombardi.
But Kennedy is ranked No. 1 in the state for a reason. And the Warriors have a 3-and-23 record for a reason. And a high school baseball game lasts seven innings for a reason.
The Cougars broke through with two runs in the fifth inning to get back in the game and make the Warriors nervous, and they plated five more runs in the sixth inning to complete the rally for a 7-5 victory in a Mississippi Valley Conference game at Washington.
"One inning put us behind and we couldn't come back from there," said Dostal, a competitive senior who went the entire game and threw 127 pitches.
Lombardi visited the mound in the fifth inning, trying to settle his team after Kennedy scored two runs. He had a brief conversation with Dostal before leaving.
"I said, 'How do you feel?' and he said, 'I'm not coming out of this game.'"
This was probably the last time Dostal will ever pitch against the Cougars and he wanted something to remember. Besides, he's a trouper.
"When I get the ball, I usually try and pitch the whole game," he remarked.
Noah Dostal hit a long, towering two-run homer to give Washington a 2-0 lead in the first inning against Adam Lloyd. The Warriors scored two more runs in the third for a 4-0 edge on an RBI triple by eighth grader Johnny Dobbs and an RBI double by Noah Dostal.
Meanwhile, the Cougars hit fly ball after fly ball, some of them hard and deep, but all within range of the Washington outfielders. Grant Dostal can sneak a fastball by you, but usually it's slow, slower and slowest, a series of pitches that look hittable until you swing too hard or swing at something out of the strike zone.
"That's what he's real good at," observed Kennedy Coach Bret Hoyer. "He stays within himself, he changes speeds and he gives the hitters an opportunity to get themselves out.
"We were doing that, and we weren't doing a very good job of making adjustments and letting the ball get deep on us. We talked about it."
Dostal tried everything he could on the mound.
"I was changing my fastball speed, I was throwing changeups, I was throwing curveballs," he said. "I was just trying to keep them off-balance and get outs."
It worked for four innings, but then things changed.
Logan Ambrosy knocked a two-run double off the right-field fence to pull the Cougars within 4-2 in the top of the fifth and break the ice. Washington countered with an RBI double by Zach Gillis to give the Warriors a 5-2 lead in the bottom of the fifth.
Dostal nearly escaped the pivotal sixth inning unscathed. It was still a 5-2 ballgame with two outs and two runners on base, but he couldn't get in the dugout with that third out for a long time.
Derek Jacobus laid down a perfect bunt for an infield single to load the bases. Andrew Johnson drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch to force in a run, making it 5-3, and then came the biggest play of the night.
Josh Jahlas ripped a single to right field, driving in two runs and tying the game at 5-5, and another run scored on the play when the throw from right field skipped by Washington catcher Will Rings for a hard-luck error for the Warriors. With one swing of the bat, Kennedy erased a 5-3 deficit and took a 6-5 lead. Ambrosy walked and Cody Bell singled to right, driving in Jahlas for an insurance run and a 7-5 edge.
Jahlas had big base hits in the fifth and sixth innings after struggling with the rest of the Cougars in the first four frames.
"We didn't start off very well," said Jahlas. "We hit a lot of popups, he got us out a lot. We adjusted. Eventually the whole team adjusted."
Lloyd had a 1-2-3 inning in the bottom of the sixth to preserve the 7-5 lead while Nick Appleget warmed up in the bullpen, but Appleget wasn't needed.
The Warriors brought the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the seventh, but Noah Dostal bounced into a controversial 4-6-3 double play to end the game. The Warriors thought Dostal beat the relay to first base, but the field umpire did not see it that way.
"I was really proud of our kids," said Lombardi after the near-miss. "We're learning a lot, mostly about ourselves and how to play seven innings. And probably tonight we didn't do that, but we came close.
"I just thought we came out and played baseball. It wasn't good enough tonight, but I'd like to think that some day, if we continue to grow, it will be good enough."
Lombardi had only two seniors in his starting lineup. Puk, his top hitter and top pitcher, is sidelined with a broken thumb, and the Warriors had two graduated eighth graders in the infield with Dobbs at third base and Trevor Thulin at second base.
"We're a work in progress," said Lombardi, in his first year as the varsity baseball coach. "We're very young.
"We're trying to build a culture," he said. "We're trying to build a baseball culture, someplace where our kids take pride and want to be part of a quality baseball program. Maybe that's why we're not quitting."
Washington has lost 15 straight games since its last victory on June 2, a 2-0 verdict over Pella nearly three weeks ago. The Warriors are 0-and-15 in the Mississippi Valley Conference, yet they had the fortitude to give top-ranked Kennedy a tough battle.
"It's been tough, but we just have to keep fighting," said Grant Dostal. "It's my senior year, the last year I'm ever going to play baseball possibly. I don't know. I just keep trying, I guess."
Lloyd allowed seven hits and four earned runs, but raised his record to 7-0 by tossing a complete with 95 pitches and six strikeouts.
Washington and Kennedy (19-3, 12-3) tangle again Friday night at Kennedy.
Jahlas, cf, 4 2 2 2, Ambrosy, rf, 3 0 1 2, Bell, 1b, 4 0 1 1, Oltmann, pr, 0 0 0 0, Dv Jacobus, 3b, 3 0 0 0, Lizarraga, c, 3 0 1 0, Smetzer, cr, 0 1 0 0, Lloyd, p, 3 1 1 0, Staton, cr, 0 1 0 0, Hayden, 2b, 3 1 0 0, Dr Jacobus, ss, 4 1 2 0, A.Johnson, lf, 2 1 0 1. Totals 29 7 8 6.
Burdt, rf, 2 2 0 0, Dobbs, 3b, 4 2 2 1, N.Dostal, ss, 4 1 2 3, Gillis, 1b, 2 0 1 1, Metzger, pr, 0 0 0 0, G.Dostal, p, 3 0 2 0, Rings, c, 3 0 0 0, Troendle, cf, 3 0 0 0, Hogg, lf, 3 0 0 0, Thulin, 2b, 3 0 0 0. Totals 27 5 7 5.
Kennedy 000 025 0 - 7 8 1
Washington 202 010 0 - 5 7 1
Lloyd and Lizarraga; G.Dostal and Rings. W - Lloyd (7-0). L - G.Dostal. 2B - Ambrosy, N.Dostal, Gillis. 3B - Dobbs. HR - N.Dostal.
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