WEBSTER CITY – What began as a saying turned into a season-long motto. Nine wolves and a buffalo, where the wolves represent all nine hitters and the buffalo represents the opposing pitcher.
A picture of the theme has been stapled to each lineup card pinned to Waverly-Shell Rock’s dugout before every game. The Go-Hawks have studied the message and incorporated it into their game plan.
It showed Wednesday.
Up against one of the better arms in the state in Webster City senior Tyler Olson – he of just eight walks and a 0.37 earned-run average coming in – the Go-Hawks poked and prodded with every pitch, taking every chance they could to push across a run or increase Olson’s pitch count – like a pack of wolves harassing a buffalo.
When the Go-Hawks knocked Olson off the mound and out of the game, they attacked his relievers – Trey Lyons and Zach Dyvig.
W-SR broke a 3-3 deadlock with a six-run ninth inning and speared the Lynx, 9-3, in the Class 3A, Substate 3 final to advance next week’s Class 3A state tournament in Iowa City.
W-SR (33-7) received the No. 5 seed and will face No. 4 seed Central DeWitt (23-15) in a quarterfinal at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Duane Banks Stadium.
Go-Hawks senior first baseman Peyton Groen sparked the rally that turned the game upside down. The right-handed batter blooped a single to shallow center. Everything went downhill for the Lynx (26-2) from there. W-SR sophomore third baseman Will Soesbe drew a walk before classmate and left fielder Dylan Stockdale legged out a bunt toward third base to load the bags. A walk to junior leadoff man Carson Graven handed the visitors a 4-3 lead. A two-run single by junior slugger Chance Key broke it open.
“We pick away, pick away, and Chance Key comes up with a big hit up the middle and away we go,” Go-Hawks coach Casey Klunder said.
The Go-Hawks sent 12 to the plate in the ninth inning of a game that was once close.
Olson and Key squared off in a much-anticipated battle of two of the premier pitchers in the state.
The Go-Hawks, knowing how tough it is to score, much less get someone on base, against Olson, had to take chances. They took a big one in the top of the first.
Graven, who got the win after a masterful outing against Humboldt in a Substate 2 semifinal at Harms Stadium at Hertel Field, smashed the first pitch of the game off the fence in deep center for a leadoff triple. When Key chopped a grounder to shortstop, Graven took off for home, but Webster City sophomore Ty McKinney threw him out at the plate for the first out.
The missed opportunity came back to cost the Go-Hawks.
Webster City took the lead during its first at-bat.
After Key got two ground ball outs to open the frame, Olson lined a double to left-center field and senior Sean Carver poked an RBI single to left to give his club a 1-0 lead.
W-SR had another chance to tie and even take the lead in the visiting second. Junior Ethan Hennings drew a walk and advanced to second on base hit by Groen with one out. But Olson got the next two outs to dodge trouble and preserve the lead.
The Go-Hawks finally struck in the third. And they took their first lead.
A walk to Graven – Olson’s ninth of the season – opened the inning. Buseman drove in a run with a single and Hennings reached on an error that plated two more runs to give the Go-Hawks a 3-1 advantage.
Webster City cut the deficit to one in the home half and tied it, 3-3, when Cal Hisler lifted a run-scoring hit to right.
The game remained deadlocked, until the ninth.
“Every (at-bat) we’re sticking to our process and we’re executing, and this whole year we’ve been a gritty, energetic team,” W-SR senior catcher Luke Shover said of his team’s approach. “This is what happens when we do all of those things right.”
Key was a big reason the game remained scoreless. He wasn’t perfect, but the W-SR right-hander felt “good” and had confidence in his fastball and slider. Both pitches had movement. And both kept the Lynx off-balance.
Shover threw out Carver trying to swipe second to limit the damage in the first. Key struck out two and pitched around an error to get out of the second. He stranded two Webster City runners by getting a groundout off the bat of Hisler in the third – an inning where Key yielded two hits and issued a walk.
“It was nice to have Shov (Shover) back there,” said Key, who was pulled after five innings. “He’s always good. I was feeling good, getting bad contact on them. Fastball was feeling good. Slider had good movement, and everything felt good there.”
Buseman, the state’s leader in saves who set a single-season record for saves in the history of Iowa high school baseball with his 11th of the season against Humboldt two nights prior, came on in the sixth.
The W-SR stopper was asked to do just that. And he did.
He pitched around two errors and got help from Shover, who threw out his second runner of the night – this time, Lyons to dodge trouble in the sixth. Buseman then retired the eight in a row before securing his first win of the season to send the Go-Hawks to Iowa City.
“This is not about one person,” Klunder added. “Our team’s not built that way. We don’t have a scholarship player in the middle of the order. We don’t tweet out Power 5 offers. This is a little bit different – this was an unselfish way, this was a two-strike (approach), this was a get-hit-with-a-pitch way.”
Before Buseman shut the door, the Go-Hawks cracked Webster City’s foundation – pitching. Lynx coach Adison Kehoe pulled Olson in favor of Lyons, who had struggled throwing strikes this season. Meanwhile, Dyvig remained in the bullpen for the time being.
Lyons recorded just one out before Keohoe went to Dyvig, the hard-throwing righty. But the damage already was done.
“We were going to make him throw strikes – he’s had a little bit of trouble with that in the past, and so we told our boys to make him throw strikes, and I thought we had some good at-bats,” Klunder said of facing Lyons.
Now, the Go-Hawks are flying high to the Class 3A state tournament – their fourth trip in Klunder’s tenure as coach of the program.
Just a few months ago, when they were preparing for the start of this magical season, Klunder wasn’t sold on the idea of his squad reaching this moment.
“No, it’s not (what I thought could happen),” Klunder said. “I’ll be candid with that answer. We’ve grown to this point. What I will say is our boys have accepted every challenge along the way and grown at each and every step, and that’s given us a chance.
“This is how we have to do it. We’re not going to run out a bunch of upper-80s arms, we’re not going to run out a D-I kid in the middle – everybody else in the 3A state tournament’s going to have one of those. We just have to do it with a team approach and unselfish approach, and our seniors led the way.”
W-SR 9, WEBSTER CITY 3
Waverly-Shell Rock … 003 000 006 – 9 7 6
Webster City ………….. 101 010 000 – 3 6 3
W-SR pitching: Key, Buseman (6) and Shover. Webster City pitching: Olson, Lyons (9), Dyvig (9) and Stoakes.
W: Buseman (1-0). L: Lyons (5-2).
2B: Webster City 1 (Olson).
3B: W-SR 1 (Graven).