GLENWOOD — Outhit 11-2, Underwood used aggressive baserunning to score both runs in a 2-1 victory over Lenox in the Class 1A Substate 8 final Tuesday at A.C. Nuckolls Field.
The win propels the Eagles to their first state tournament appearance.
Underwood (23-7) never led until the final play of the game. The Eagles will make their state debut in a quarterfinal matchup with second-seeded and top-ranked Twin Cedars (33-0) at 11 a.m. Saturday at Principal Park in Des Moines.
Lenox (22-6), was denied its ninth state tournament appearance and first since its runner-up finish in 2009 under former coach Steve Westphal.
Tiger junior Caleb Lange was outshining Underwood ace Austin Konsor much of the night, yielding only two hits in 7 2/3 innings. But Konsor, surviving a run and three hits in the opening inning, picked up the win. Lenox had at least one hit in six innings while stranding nine baserunners.
Lenox catcher Dustin Gordon alone had more hits (three) than the entire Underwood team.
The decisive run came without a base hit. Lange, who had pitched five innings of relief Saturday in Lenox’s 10-inning district championship game against Fremont-Mills, showed signs of laboring in the eighth inning as 10 of his first 12 pitches were balls.
Wichman drew a one-out walk, then barely beat the throw from shortstop Jared Hensley to second baseman Kaleb Anderson on a grounder hit by Spencer Pingel with two outs.
Runners were on first and second when Preston Jager slapped a roller to Anderson at second. The Tiger freshman momentarily bobbled the ball, saw that it might be too late for a throw to first for the final out, and quickly fired the ball to Gordon at the plate as Wichman was dashing down the third base line.
Gordon fielded the high throw just as Wichman’s feet were inches from the plate, and the Tiger senior couldn’t wheel around for the tag in time to nullify the run.
That ignited a celebration along the third-base line area as the Eagles earned their first trip to state.
Coach Andy Vanfossan, who took over the program in 2008, said a veteran lineup that experienced a substate loss to Martensdale-St. Marys a year ago played a part in battling through Tuesday’s tight contest.
“I really think experience helped us tonight, especially on the bases,” Vanfossan said. “It happened to us last year when we played at Martensdale. It was a tight ballgame right up until the sixth inning. They hit a couple and we booted a couple and all of a sudden it’s 11-7. On that last play, I just felt we had to be aggressive. But if the throw is spot on, it would have been a bang-bang play.”
Bold baserunning also allowed Underwood to tie the game at 1-1 in the fourth inning, when the Eagles finally got their first hit against Lange. Konsor reached on a throwing error and Pingel ripped a single to left.
The runners advanced on a passed ball. Jager struck out, but the dropped third strike required Lenox catcher Dustin Gordon to throw to first base. He jogged several feet up the first base line to shorten the throw to first baseman Todd Stoaks.
Konsor, the state 110-meter high hurdles champion, seized the opening and scored as nobody was left to cover home plate.
Lenox went ahead 1-0 in the top of the first when Gordon doubled to center and scored on Spencer Brown’s single.
Lenox had two opportunities to win the game in regulation.
With Dusten Reed on third in the fourth, Dustyn Rauch grounded to shortstop. Lenox third base coach Kurt Stoaks tried to get the Tigers’ running game ignited and sent Reed on the shortstop’s throw to first base.
Pingle quickly sent the return throw home in time for Jager, the Eagles’ catcher, to tag out Reed.
Then in the seventh, The Tigers loaded the bases with three singles. But Konsor retired Lange on a grounder to second.
Lange also had to work out of some scoring threats. Wichman walked to open the sixth and advanced to second on a balk. Konsor singled, and a flyout to center by Pingel moved Wichman to third.
Popouts to Stoaks at first and above the mound to Lange ended the threat.
In yielding only two hits, Lange allowed no earned runs, struck out four and walked three. He also hit a batter in the second, but erased him quickly on a pickoff. He faced only one batter over the minimum through three innings.
Konsor, who has walked only four batters all season, improved to 8-1 on the strength of his control and a defense that made only one error, compared to an uncharacteristic four miscues by the Tigers.
“We were fortunate to pull it out, getting outhit 11-2 you’re not going to win too many of those games,” Vanfossan said.
“You outhit them 11-2, how do you not win that game?” an incredulous co-coach Kurt Stoaks asked himself after the game. “We certainly had our chances. We just came up a little short. We came and we battled, two extra-inning games in a row after we didn’t have one all year. We just couldn’t string together the hits, that was the story.”
Vanfossan said Konsor has a history of settling in after rocky starts.
“He’s one of those guys who may struggle in the first inning, but he dials it in after that,” Vanfossan said. “Lange was hitting his spots for them, too, with the curveball and changeup. We hit a lot of cheap flyballs tonight. Fortunately, we have some experience on the bases that allows us to be aggressive when we need it.”
Lenox’s running game, meanwhile, was limited by Jager’s talent at the catcher position.
“Both teams were cautious tonight,” Vanfossan said.
“Every time we’ve lost this year, they’ve had a really solid catcher,” Wood said. “That’s a big part of our game to take away.”
Lenox had a relatively young team on the field, losing Stoaks and Gordon from this year’s roster. The gradual rebuild from a five-win season in 2010 is well under way now.
“We have the tradition, but it hasn’t been there the last few years,” said co-coach Brian Wood. “We’ve been trying to build it back up where it was, and we’ve got the kids excited about it again. We couldn’t get that really big hit tonight, that was part of it.”
Coach Stoaks is already optimistic about the 2015 season.
“We will miss the two seniors,” Stoaks said. “We couldn’t ask more out of them. But, you could see it in our guys’ eyes tonight that they were really wanting to win it, and we have seven of those nine coming back.”
Underwood 2, Lenox 1
R H E
Lenox 100 000 00 — 1 11 4
Underwood 000 100 01 — 2 2 1
L: Caleb Lange 4K 3BB 1 HBP and Dustin Gordon. U: Austin Konsor 5K 0BB and Preston Jager. W — Konsor (8-1). L— Lange (9-4). 2B — L: Gordon. RBI — L: Spencer Brown 1. Multiple hitters — L: Gordon 3, Dusten Reed 2, Kaleb Anderson 2.