By Susan Harman
Iowa City Press-Citizen
IOWA CITY -- Iowa City West Coach Charlie Stumpff was walking the halls at 8 a.m. Friday worrying about his team’s substate matchup with A.J. Puk, Cedar Rapids Washington’s star pitcher.
Puk is a 6-foot-6 lefty who plays part of the summer with a traveling team and already has committed to the University of Florida as a junior.
So even though Washington came in with a less than impressive 7-29 record, Puk’s presence made it a scary matchup between a No.1 seed and a No.6 seed.
Stumpff needn’t have worried. His team took advantage of one disastrous inning by Puk and came away with a 6-0 victory.
West High (33-7) has a bye on Monday and will host Dubuque Hempstead or Dubuque Senior on Wednesday in the Class 4A substate finals.
“We’d worry against anybody,” Stumpff said. “Sometimes when you’re a one playing a six you might not be all that interested, but somebody as good as Puk gets our interest.”
“They are a great baseball team, but we knew that coming in,” Washington Coach Tony Lombardi said. “We’re a young, developing team, but I don’t want to take anything away from Iowa City West. They are so solid defensively.
“I’m so proud of our kids. You had to see our team at the beginning of the year. We’re not a very good baseball team yet but we are a far better team than started this season. We don’t kick the ball around anymore.”
West blew the game open in the top of the third with five runs on two hits and five walks by Puk. Both of the Trojans’ hits, by Reid Bonner and Tyus Adkins, were singles that knocked in two runs. Devin Raffensperger walked with the bases loaded for the fifth run.
“Our game plan was just to come in and get base runners on and try to shake him up,” Bonner said. “He’s a good pitcher. We wanted to get in his head. He didn’t change much. We knew he’d be good throughout the whole game because he’s a D-I pitcher.”
“The last pitch was right down the middle,” Adkins said. “I was looking fastball the entire time because that’s all I got the whole game. He left a changeup up in the zone and I just took it down the line.”
“He just couldn’t get the breaking ball called for a strike,” Lombardi said. “I think he got a little frustrated that he couldn’t get a call. It was a rough inning for him. I asked and he said his arm feels fine. It was weird. His control the whole rest of the game was fine.”
Indeed, Puk set down the Trojans in order in the final four innings. West had only four hits, just one for extra bases, but they made hay when they had the chance.
The Trojans opened the scoring with two outs in the first on Bonner’s double to left center. Bonner stole third when Puk paid no attention to him and scored on a wild pitch to Declan Doyle.
Trojan starter Kellen Yoder was masterful. He went five innings, gave up one hit and struck out eight. “I felt loose and good, trusted my teammates,” Yoder said.
“He had his stuff today,” Adkins said. “He usually throws strikes consistently and lets his defense play behind him. He did his job today.”
Nick Grimsman pitched the sixth and Luke Crimmins the seventh. In total, the West pitchers gave up just two hits.
“Kellen was really good, all three guys,” Stumpff said. “That was kind of the plan. All three are really good pitchers, low to mid 80s, great breaking stuff. We can give them a little different look.”
Lombardi said he enjoyed this season, his first as the baseball coach in addition to his football coaching duties, and would return next year.
“I’ve coached a lot of sports. I’ve coached 30 years and this has probably been my most enjoyable coaching experience,” he said. “These are wonderful kids.
“We have a lot of work to do. We don’t have a place to hit in the winter. We didn’t have real dirt on our infield until this year, but we’ve done that.
"I think we’ve built a foundation to build a successful baseball program. Our youth programs are now playing a very high caliber of baseball. So the future for us is really, really bright.”
Iowa City West 105 000 0 — 6 4 0
Washington 000 000 0 — 0 2 0
Kellen Yoder, Nick Grimsman (6), Luke Crimmins (7) and Colin Baker; A.J. Puk and Will Rings. 2B — Reid Bonner (ICW), Noah Burdt (CRW). W — Yoder (7-0). L - Puk.
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