A switch went on after the Unity Christian High School baseball team scored thrice Tuesday night during the fifth inning.
That three-run stanza for the Knights helped them beat Estherville-Lincoln Central 8-2 in a Class 2A substate final, and it qualified them for the state tournament that begins Monday in Carroll.
The Knights’ first state tournament game is at 11 a.m. Tuesday against Clarinda. The Knights are the No. 4 seed in the field, while Van Meter is the top seed.
This is the first time since 2002 that Unity Christian has sent a team to the state tournament.
The Knights scored three times in the fifth inning after the Midgets scored twice in the second inning.
That’s exactly what senior Tanner Schouten needed to get a pick-me-up.
Schouten found a second gear, and he had the Midgets guessing throughout the last three innings.
Schouten was throwing pitches and the Midgets were guessing wrong in the last three innings.
Schouten pitched with a purpose.
“You could tell his mindset just changed,” Knights coach Marlin Schoonhoven said. “He got stronger. What we were calling, we had them off-balanced. We tried to be a little more aggressive.”
Schouten recorded seven strikeouts. He allowed two runs on two hits, and both of them were singles.
Schouten also allowed three walks and a hit batsmen.
The Knights then added five more runs in the seventh inning.
They were patient.
They forced walks and were hit by pitches. They were eager to hit, but stayed focused if there was a pitch outside the plate.
The key hit during that inning came on a two-run single from catcher Blake Vande Vegte.
Vande Vegte isn’t really known for his offense.
He’s the catcher, according to Schoonhoven, who all the pitchers appreciate throwing to.
“He blocks well, and he holds pitches well,” Schoonhoven said. “He does a really nice job of blocking offspeed pitches in the dirt. Anything we can get out of him offensively, that’s just a bonus.”
The Knights had just three hits. Clayton Bosma had the other two, including a first-inning double.
Schoonhoven said that the belief that the Knights could make it to state started last year, when they lost to West Lyon in that substate final.
“It takes athletes and it takes a little bit of a baseball mentality and we definitely had baseball gurus that wanted to play baseball,” Schoonhoven said. “We have guys who love to play baseball.”
Van Meter got to state by beating Alta-Aurelia 11-0 Tuesday night in Fort Dodge.
Ganon Archer held the Warriors to zero hits in the five-inning state qualifier. He struck out eight batters.
The Warriors did force a walk.
The Bulldogs got the scoring going right away, as they scored twice in the first and second innings.
Van Meter broke the game open in the fourth inning by scoring seven runs.
Zach Pleggenkuhle was 3-for-3 with three RBIs and a home run.