L-S shows grit, sportsmanship in battle of the Hawks

The Lynnville-Sully Hawks’ bid for a state baseball championship fell one game short in a 1-0 loss to eventual state champions, Remsen St. Mary’s, in the Class 1A state semifinals on Wednesday, July 19, at Carroll’s Merchants Park.

The Hawks were bolstered by stellar pitching, a flawless defensive performance, and loads of positive encouragement and support from the coaches, players in the dugout, and loyal L-S fans who made the two-plus hour drive to Carroll to cheer on their Hawks. Unfortunately for Lynnville-Sully, the battle of the Hawks went to Remsen St. Mary’s in the semifinals. The Hawks “were prepared for that game at that level, they belonged on that stage,” said head coach Scott Alberts. All of the goals met leading up to the semifinals game – SICL conference championship title, district championship title, and state qualification – were evidence of the work, focus, and determination of every Hawk player on the 2023 roster. The L-S Hawks fought hard and pushed RSM in what proved to be RSM’s closest game of the postseason.

Wednesday’s game was a tense pitchers’ duel that went down to the wire. L-S threatened right away when sophomore Lannon Montgomery and Conner Maston hit back-to-back singles in the first. Both advanced on a passed ball but were left stranded on the bases, putting L-S to work on defense.

The Hawks put RSM down in order with a ground ball fielded by sophomore Carson Maston at shortstop and two strikeouts by the elder Maston.

Unfortunately, L-S did the same in the top of the second with a ground out, hard line out, and strike out. RSM’s single run to sneak past L-S came across in the second inning on back-to-back hits.

Senior Conner Maston led the Hawks offensively in the semifinals, going 2-for-3 at bat. He was on the mound in the pitchers’ duel where he struck out six, walked one, and allowed one earned run.

In the top of the third, junior Corder Noun Harder reached base on a throwing error. The speedy Hawk who led the team in steals was caught stealing for out two. A strikeout sent the Hawks back to defense. In the bottom of the third, senior centerfielder Caleb Rea made a catch for out one. RSM singled but was thrown out on an assist  from Carson Maston to senior Bryce Richards at second base to get the lead runner out. The final out of the inning was caught by junior left fielder Blake Van Wyk.

Conner Maston led the top of the fourth with a single to left field. He advanced to second on a wild pitch, moved to third on Richards’ sacrifice bunt, but was left stranded 90 feet away from home plate.

RSM had a lead-off single in the bottom of the fourth, but the Hawks turned a 4-6-3 double play to wipe the runner off the bases. Conner Maston got the third batter out swinging.

Lannon Montgomery, who led the team in walks, listens to coach Alberts before the final at bat.

With two outs in the top of the fifth, junior Lucas Sieck reached on error. Noun Harder intentionally walked and soon called out at second base on the unassisted play fielding Montgomery’s grounder.

The L-S defense put RSM down in order in the fifth. Conner Maston threw a strikeout for the first out. Senior first baseman Reese Dunsbergen snagged a hard grounder at first for the second, and Richards caught a line drive for the third out.

In the sixth, L-S got two runners on – Richards with a walk and Rea singled – but both were left on base. Van Wyk caught a line drive for the first out of the sixth, and Conner Maston sat the final two batters down with strikeouts.

The Hawks were down to their final opportunity and needed just one run to tie the game up. With two outs, the Hawks had a glimmer of hope when Noun Harder laced a single through the infield and took second and third on a wild pitch. With the tying run just 90 feet away, a called third strike well inside on Montgomery ended the tight ball game. Lynnville-Sully’s dream of chasing the school’s second state title fell just short as they took the 1-0 semifinals loss. Lynnville-Sully’s first and only state baseball title came in 1988. Hawk fans may remember that championship game when former L-S pitcher Corey Jansen threw a one-hitter in five innings, a record that still holds today.

The Hawks had opportunities to score, but unfortunately, they could not string together the offensive production needed to plate a run. The small ball game they executed well all season fell short in the semis. And, a few unfortunate plays in the game didn’t bounce in the Hawks’ favor, which certainly played a role. Head coach Scott Alberts explains, “When you play a game in the State Tournament, it doesn't hurt to have a little luck on your side.”

Coach Alberts continues, “There are a number of plays in this game I can point to and say Remsen St Mary's had the luck tilt their direction: 1. Early inning, Corder on third, two down, and a high wild pitch hits Caleb’s bat creating a foul ball instead of passed ball that would have scored. 2. Runner on second, two down, and Carson rips a ball up the middle for a would-be base hit, pitcher tips it with his glove redirecting toward the second basemen who can now make the put out at first, canceling a score. We had our opportunities for sure, but just couldn’t close the deal and push a run across the plate.”

L-S matched RSM in hits with five. Conner Maston led the Hawks with two hits; Noun Harder, Montgomery, and Rea each recorded a single. Noun Harder had one stolen base.

Conner Maston pitched a complete gem and only needed 85 pitches to get through six innings. He struck out six, walked one, and allowed one earned run. The defense behind Maston was also spectacular and played flawlessly. At shortstop, Carson Maston had four assists and a put out and helped turn the 4-6-3 double play. Richards at second base racked up two assists and two put outs and started the double play. Van Wyk made two critical catches in left field, and Rea one in centerfield. Dunsbergen used his lanky frame at first base to stretch for any close outs and snagged a tough bounce off a hard grounder for an out. Behind the plate, Noun Harder was  part of a rock-solid battery and kept runners in check with no stolen bases allowed. In addition to six strikeouts, Conner Maston cleanly fielded a ball from the pitcher’s position.

Even the opposing coach felt the battle of the Hawks was epic. “That was a pitchers’ duel. One of the best high school games you’re gonna watch,” said RSM head coach Dean Harpenau in a post-game interview.  “This was a pitchers’ duel, and we’re fortunate to win. Hats off to them. They played a great game as well.”

Coach Alberts agreed, saying his players were well prepared and “they belonged on that stage.”

The Hawks’ 2023 campaign will go down as the second-best in Lynnville-Sully baseball history.

L-S finishes the season with a 29-2 record.

They also have the titles of back-to-back SICL Conference and District Champs and state semifinalists to their name. Lynnville-Sully’s state appearance was the first since 2001. At state, they faced teams who have made regular appearances there.

“I am incredibly proud of this group of young men. The work they put in throughout the off season and the focus and dedication they showed throughout the season has been unmatched by any group that I have coached before them,” said coach Alberts. “Everyone from the starting 10 to the last guy off the bench had a hand in this year's success.”

Lynnville-Sully baseball graduates four incredible student-athletes who have played enormous roles building the program. Conner Maston, a five-year starter for the Hawks, and three-year starters Reese Dunsbergen, Caleb Rea, and Bryce Richards have been instrumental in the team’s success. In the past two years alone, they have helped lead the Hawks to a 53-5 record. Coach Alberts, coach Dustin Dunsbergen, and coach Stacey Alberts have had a hand in coaching these four at some level since fifth and sixth grades. Coach Blaize Kuhlmann came on board this season. Coach Scott Alberts said of his seniors, “This group took their share of lumps early, but they listened when we talked about playing for a state championship.  When they were asked to put in the extra work out of season, they did it without hesitation because they knew the goal in the end. Each of these seniors will always have a special place in my heart for the way they approached the game and how they saw their dreams become reality through their hard work and dedication. We fell one game short of that championship game this season, but we busted through a lot of ceilings and reset our program expectations for the future. This senior class has laid a lot of important ground work for the classes that will follow them.”

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