DES MOINES — For five innings on Tuesday, Dallas Center-Grimes and Harlan traded zeros.
But the second-seeded Cyclones broke through for four runs in the sixth, then squelched DC-G rallies in the final two innings to win the Class 3A state quarterfinal, 4-0, at Principal Park.
"Obviously, it’s disappointing," said starter Jake Lewis, one of 10 seniors on the team. "I think we all felt that we could get back and do more damage (at state). I’m really proud of this team and all we’ve done this year. I’m glad to go out with a group of guys like this."
The Cyclones finally broke through in the sixth inning. After a walk and single, freshman Brett Croghan dropped a bunt down the third-base line, then beat the throw at first from Mustang third baseman Tyler Pierson.
Croghan entered in the fourth inning after Derek Leinen was ejected for what umpires called malicious contact in a collision at second base.
"I thought the play of the game was that bunt," said DC-G coach Byron Peyton, whose team finished the season 21-14. "Tyler picked it up and made a good, strong throw, but he beat it."
A hit batter, ground out and wild pitch resulted in three runs, and Cale Stork lifted a sacrifice fly to plate a fourth.
"If we hold them to one or two, offensively, we’re just different in the sixth and seventh because we pushed them," Peyton said. "But when they break it open and get the four, then you’re really climbing up the hill."
The Mustangs tried to mount a comeback. Lewis singled and Justin Carlyle added a bunt single to start the sixth, but a 6-4-3 double play by Harlan effectively ended the threat. In the seventh, Nick Schiller and Carter Trager collected hits but were left stranded.
"That’s why I’m proud of this team," Peyton said. "They play that as if it was 1-0 or 2-0. We came right back and had two runners on."
DC-G stranded runners in scoring position in both the third and fourth innings. The Cyclones, despite committing two errors in the third, kept the Mustangs off the board.
Lewis went six innings on the mound, allowing four hits and four walks and striking out eight, and Trager pitched a scoreless seventh. Jordan Kloewer collected two of the team’s eight hits.
"If the season has to end with a loss, that’s probably as good a spot to be in as any," Peyton said, gesturing to the Principal Park field. "It could’ve been at Norwalk the other night, it could’ve been at Dallas Center last week. If there’s a little bit of a silver lining, it’s to end it here — the next best thing."
The team graduated 10 seniors who not only played a big role in the 2012 state championship, but also guiding the team back to the state tournament this season.
"It’s been amazing. It’s been all these guys who have grown together as brothers," Kloewer said. "Our team motto these past few years has been BIOB: Believe in our brothers.
"I believed in these guys every single game. I wouldn’t want to be out here with anyone else."
The team shrugged off lofty expectations and a very difficult schedule to make a return trip to state.
"We kind of changed as a team as we went," Peyton said. "In the beginning we thought we were what we were last year, and we weren’t the same team, but we were a pretty good team. Tonight I walk away from here saying, you know, we had a really nice team."
While their state-tournament stay was cut short, the Mustangs took pride in advancing as far as they did.
"We definitely didn’t have the same record or same star power, but we believed in each other the whole time," Kloewer said. "It was almost more special making it back this year with so many people doubting us."