HINTON, Iowa — The Hinton High School baseball team knew Alta-Aurelia was going to give the Blackhawks a fight Saturday in the Class 2A-District 16 championship, despite beating them by 10 runs earlier this summer.
Neither the Blackhawks (26-4) nor the Warriors (17-10) thought it would go nine rounds. Both teams tried to deliver the knockout punch, but the other team responded by either tying the game or taking the lead.
Blackhawks senior Blake Beller slid into home plate on a wild pitch 3 hours, 17 minutes after the game started to give Hinton a 12-11 win. With the win, the Blackhawks face Underwood for the Class 2A-Substate 8 championship at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Harlan.
“I realized the ball was going to go in the dirt, and that gave an extra jump,” Beller said. “I took off and there was no play at home, and it was pretty easy.”
Beller led off the ninth inning with a walk. Beller reached base six times in the game, as he was 3-for-3 with three walks. It’s the most hits a Blackhawks had in a game since Braden Vonk hit four on June 29 against Woodbury Central.
Hinton had reason to celebrate, but not early on in the district final. Alta-Aurelia darted out to a 6-0 lead after 2 ½ innings.
The Warriors knew they had to be aggressive. That’s been their key to turning around their season after a 1-4 start.
Anthony Krier got the scoring started with an RBI double that scored Michael Ryherd, who led off the game with a walk.
Krier later scored on a fielder’s choice that made the score 2-0.
Krier and McCoy then helped add on three runs in the third inning. Krier had another double that scored Conrad Falk. Falk started the rally with a one-out double.
McCoy hit a two-run single to centerfield that made the score 5-0.
“If you look at QuikStats, we score a lot of runs,” A-A coach Ryan Burkhart said. “We just like to hit. We have to be aggressive every night.”
The Warriors also tacked on a run in the third inning when Blackhawks starting pitcher Aiden Brock hit Ryherd with a pitch as the bases were loaded. In the third, the Warriors needed just one hit to load the bases.
In the middle of the third, it seemed as if the game were in Alta. The Warriors dugout was full of energy, and their fans were high-fiving and happy.
“Alta had a lot of fire in them, and they came out strong,” Hinton coach Cale Kramer said. “I guess, we felt sorry for ourselves and realized that this ain’t us.”
On the other side, every Hinton bench player had their arms crossed on the railing with their heads resting on their arms. They were quiet but knew there was plenty of game left.
“It was kind of dead, and it was hard to get going,” Beller said. “We’ve been down before, and we’ve came back. We haven’t had any games like this, though. That was pretty crazy.”
Brock admitted, meanwhile, that he was nervous pitching in a district title game. He knew that the Blackhawks had a good season, and didn’t want it to end earlier than expected.
“You just get a little more jittery, and it took me a couple innings to settle in,” Brock said. “Once I got the jitters settled in, I was fine. I’ve pitched a long time. This isn’t the first big game I’ve pitched in."
Brock referred to a game earlier this month where he allowed three first-inning runs against West Lyon, but the Blackhawks also came back to win that game, 6-4, on July 8.
Brock lasted five innings. He allowed six runs on eight hits and had seven strikeouts.
Kramer thought Brock was the Blackhawks’ best option based off his experience.
“If I panic, then it’s over,” Brock said. “We’re not strangers to being behind.”
Beller, Brock and the rest of the Blackhawks proved in the fifth inning that the game wasn’t over.
With one out, Vonk got a single, then he immediately scored on Beller’s RBI double. After Beller slid into second base, he threw his arms into the air trying to pump up both the crowd and dugout.
The rest of the Blackhawks lineup heard their catcher loud and clear.
After Beller’s double, the next seven Hinton batters reached base with at-bat No. 7 being the one that broke the score open.
Brock drove in three runs with a double that ended up at the centerfield wall that made the score 10-6 at that point. Beller had a second RBI hit in that frame, as he brought home Brock on a single that also went to centerfield.
Brock admitted in the at-bat he was wanting to swing hard. He didn’t necessarily want to hit a home run, but knew a big hit would help.
He saw what his teammates were doing in front of him, and that gave him confidence after leading off the inning on an infield pop out.
“I get in the box with the bases loaded, and I thought to myself, ‘I’m just going to hit a nice single,’” Brock said. “I took a big cut at it, and that’s the farthest ball I’ve hit in a long time. I took a big cut and a hard swing.
“It was contagious,” Brock added. “The energy of one base hit, then another, then another, then another, then pretty soon, everyone is just jacked up. Next guy goes up, base hit. We just feed off of everyone’s energy and it doesn’t take much to get ramped up.”
The Blackhawks had nine runs on eight hits in the fifth inning.
Alta-Aurelia instantly bounced back with a sacrifice fly from Keaton Mork, but it was the seventh inning that put the Warriors back in business.
The Warriors started off the frame with their first six hitters reaching base.
Falk led off the inning with a single, then Blackhawks reliever Kyle Brighton surrendered a walk and Ryherd reached on an error.
The big hit came off Aric Stephan’s bat, as he launched a fly ball to centerfield that one-hopped the wall. Three runners came into score, and just like that, the game was tied at 11-11.
"I feel like a lot of guys when they get the (batter's) box that they're in scoring position," Burkhart said. "We don't feel like we need to get three singles to score runs."
The Blackhawks had the bases loaded in the seventh and eighth innings, but Mork got out of both jams.
The Warriors had a chance in the ninth inning. Krier led off the ninth with a single but was later retired on a force play at third base.
McCoy earned a walk, and Stephan reached base on a fielder’s choice that got Krier thrown out.
Hinton ended the threat as Beller caught McCoy stealing third base, even though there were two outs.
Beller saw McCoy going to third base out of the corner of his eye, and Hinton’s Tate Kounkel yelled from third base that McCoy was attempting the steal.
Beller’s throw was a little wide of the bag, but Kounkel leaped to make the catch, then used that momentum to somersault in the air to make the tag on McCoy.
“On both accounts, Blake’s throw and Tate’s tag were just amazing plays,” Kramer said. “I wasn’t sure when that ball came out of Blake’s hand that Tate was going to be close to the bag to make the play. It was a good tag.
“The worst part about Blake is that he’s a senior,” Kramer added. “But, he’s been a staple for three years. He leads us, and he knows how to play the game the right way. He knows when he needs to come through.”
Vonk was the only other Blackhawks hitter with a multi-hit game, as he was 2-for-6.