SIOUX CITY -- When the Sergeant Bluff-Luton High School baseball team scored first in a Class 3A substate final Wednesday at Bud Speraw Field, Bishop Heelan didn’t blink an eye.
Being behind early -- and then making a comeback -- has been something the Crusaders have done often in the last few weeks.
The Crusaders scored all three of their runs in the fourth inning, and they erased a two-run deficit to defeat the Warriors 3-2. Bishop Heelan will go back to state for the fourth straight season and its state quarterfinal game will be Tuesday at Principal Park in Des Moines.
Max Venne drove in the go-ahead run on a sacrifice fly that scored courtesy runner Ryan Dougherty, who ran for pitcher Brant Hogue.
Mike Pithan led off the inning with a walk, then Ben Dixon hit a long single that drove in Pithan.
Hogue then doubled that scored Dixon that tied the game.
The Crusaders only had one hit after the first run-through of the lineup against Warriors pitcher Daniel Wright.
“We knew we were going to have to battle for every run,” Hogue said. “It took extra effort before and after practice … after we lost to SB-L (on May 30). We never looked back from there.”
However, Heelan’s lineup went 3-for-6 with a walk, a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly the second time through the lineup.
“We just never give up and we have a lot of energy,” Dixon said. “The big at-bats mattered, and we came through in the clutch moments.”
Wright calmed down the Crusaders’ lineup in the final two innings, as he threw two perfect frames in the fifth and sixth. He ended up six strikeouts and one walk.
“Two good teams … somebody had to win and somebody had to lose. I’m pleased for Heelan and for coach (Andy) Osborne, that’s a great program,” Warriors coach Matt Nelson said. “Every game that Dan pitches, he gives us an opportunity to win. He did that again tonight.”
Hogue, meanwhile, had a shaky start.
The Crusaders junior surrendered a walk to Warriors lead-off hitter Jacob Massey, and let Warriors No. 2 hitter Carter Schumacher a 2-0 count.
After Hogue gave up the second ball to Schumacher, he needed a moment to collect himself. So, Hogue walked off the back of the mound, said a couple words of encouragement, and climbed back up the hill.
His message worked, as Hogue struck out Schumacher, Deric Fitzgerald and Spencer Kleene.
“I just had to tell myself, ‘One strike at a time, one strike at a time,’” Hogue said.
Hogue couldn’t get through the second or the fourth inning without avoiding damage.
Wright led off the second inning on a fielding error by Pithan. Wright hit a two-hopper to Pithan’s left, and Pithan knocked the ball down, but couldn’t corral himself to make the throw.
Wright’s courtesy runner, Cody Salker, advanced to second on a Wade Phair groundout, then picked up the last 180 feet on two wild pitches.
In the fourth inning, Wright hit a two-out double to left field, then Salker scored on a stolen base to third. He scored as catcher Collin Knapp overthrew the base as he was trying to pick off Salker.
“With facing the pitcher we had to face, you got to get creative a little bit,” Nelson said. “We had to be aggressive on the bases, because (Hogue) is the real deal. I was pleased with our efforts to get out on top and scratch some runs across.
“The last couple games, we’ve been able to sit and rip a little bit,” Nelson added. “With a guy who commanded his pitches the way he did tonight, so we had to do some things and it worked a couple times.”
Hogue did allow two baserunners in the sixth inning, but the Heelan defense helped out Hogue with one out.
Massey was the baserunner on second base with Fitzgerald at the plate. Fitzgerald hit a line drive to centerfield that landed a few feet ahead of Christian Velasquez.
Velasquez was summoned to the outfield on Wednesday, as he had treatment on Tuesday and even on Wednesday morning on his throwing arm after exiting the game early on Monday against Storm Lake.
Velasquez’s arm proved to be a key play in the sixth inning. Velasquez scooped up the ball on a hop, threw it to Dixon, who served as the cut-off man on the play, on a straight line.
Dixon then fired a throw to Knapp, and the throw beat Massey by a step.
“As soon as I scooped it, I was just thinking, ‘Hit my cut, hit my cut,’” Velasquez said. “I usually go for the cut, because I don’t want to overthrow the catcher. Once we got that out, I felt like we had all the momentum.”
Osborne credited that play as a big one and says the outfielders and infielders have improved hitting their relay man throughout the season.
“The way that they handle the ball is so efficient,” Osborne said. “Early on, it wasn’t that great. We were trying to figure everything out.”
Hogue ended up with 10 strikeouts and allowed three hits.
OSBORNE WEARS A WEST HAT: Osborne and the Crusaders know who to give credit to by helping them clinch the MRAC regular-season title.
West defeated East in Game 2 last Monday night that allowed the Crusaders to win the conference championship.
So, as a token of appreciation to West and coach Beau Brown, who has resigned as the Wolverines coach, Osborne stepped out of the dugout after Wednesday’s state-qualifying win with a green ‘W’ hat on.
“I texted Beau on Sunday night saying, ‘Get one against East, and next TV interview I do, I’ll wear a West hat,’” Osborne said. “Before I sent the text, he says, ‘No problem.’”
Brown texted Osborne: ‘What size do you wear?’
So before the interviews began after the substate title win, Osborne took off his navy Heelan hat and sported a green one.
“I guess I owe it to him,” Osborne said.