Three-time defending state champion Martensdale-St. Marys survived a scare against unranked Underwood Tuesday night at Panther Field.
The No. 8-ranked Blue Devils overcame a 4-0 deficit, then rallied to tie the Eagles at 5-5 and overtake them with a six-run sixth inning in an 11-5 Class 1A substate victory.
Martensdale-St. Marys (30-9) is seeded fifth in the Class 1A state tourney and takes on No. 4 seed Twin Cedars (35-2) at 8 p.m. Friday at Des Moines’ Principal Park.
But, when the Blue Devils trailed 4-0 and ace pitcher Eddy Kraber was knocked out in the third inning, it wasn’t shaping up as another state run. Kraber entered the game with a 0.98 earned-run average.
Miller Hatcher made a brief relief appearance before giving way to co-ace Trent Verwers in the fifth inning. Verwers improved to 8-0 for the season, and also provided the killing blow with a two-run single in a six-run sixth inning that stretched it to an 11-5 Blue Devil lead.
That rally also included two walks, a hit batsman, wild pitch and three infield errors by the Eagles, who had played flawlessly in the field up to that point. Starting pitcher Gabel Sudmann was effective until being relieved by Austin Konsor in the fifth with the Eagles clinging to a 5-4 lead.
Konsor had a solo home run for Underwood, which set a school record for victories at 23-11 in seeking its first trip to state.
Hatcher had two doubles in Martensdale-St. Marys’ eight-hit attack.
Blue Devil coach Jon Fitzpatrick said his team, with only one starter returning from last year’s state championship squad, stayed persistent despite the early deficit. The team averages more than 10 runs per game, but had no baserunners until Garrett Gehringer drew a walk to start a two-run third inning.
“In my mind, I knew we weren’t going to get shut out — that’s just not the way we play,” Fitzpatrick said. “But it was definitely nerve-wracking when I had to take Eddy out there.”
(Evan Bland of the Council Bluffs Nonpareil contributed to this story.)