With the heat index soaring past 110 degrees on Friday, Lewis Central pitcher Bryson Sharon assured a reporter he dropped more than a few pounds from his 135-pound frame.
That’s not even counting the weight that disappeared from the junior’s shoulders after his performance.
Sharon allowed just three hits in 6 2/3 innings of work, and added two hits and two RBIs at the plate as the second-seeded Titans eliminated fifth-seeded Abraham Lincoln 7-2 in a Class 4-A substate opener at the steamy L.C. diamond.
The softspoken left-hander summed up his feelings in the early innings with his team’s season on the line.
“Nervous,’’ he said. “Big game. Nervous for a few innings, then once we started taking the lead and hitting the ball…’’
Hawkeye Ten Conference champion Lewis Central (23-13) earns a second postseason home game. It will host fourth-seeded Indianola (23-14), the Little Hawkeye champ, in a 7 p.m. semifinal game on Monday, with the winner traveling to top-seeded, top-rated Johnston (33-5) on Wednesday for the Substate 8 championship. A.L. closed at 13-26.
While Sharon may not have been a shoo-in to start the substate opener in the preseason, L.C. coach Lee Toole said he was comfortable sending him to the hill.
“As the year progressed, he’s been probably our most consistent pitcher,’’ he said. “And being a lefty, from that side, is an advantage, obviously. We wanted to make sure we had somebody that could keep us in the game.’’
Sharon’s only hiccup came in the third inning. Cade Nelson led off with a walk, was sacrificed to second by Austin Wickman and scored on Tyler Reiss’ triple to deep left-center. Zane Olsen plated Reiss with a single to give the Lynx a 2-1 lead.
Lewis Central responded in the bottom of the frame. Jordan Wardlow was hit by a pitch with one out and took third on John Hemmingsen’s bloop single. They both scored on Sharon’s two-run single for a 3-2 lead.
The A.L. pitching staff has battled health problems and inconsistency throughout the summer. Lynx coach Brett Elam didn’t want to use health as a crutch.
“Honestly, I don’t think getting healthy was even in our conversation,’’ he said. “It was just that we weren’t very good all year. Tonight was a prime example. We scored two in the top of the third to go ahead. All year, whenever we get the momentum, we can’t go out and put up a goose egg and get back in and swing it. We always give the momentum right back, and we’re not good enough to play from behind.’’
Lynx junior starter Kaden Baxter, who started using his knuckleball heavily in the middle of the season, hit batters on his first three pitches of the game, but escaped with just one run allowed in the inning.
The Titans broke it open in the fourth with four runs on two hits and four walks. Colbey Roth and Wardlow drew bases-loaded walks, Jake Powell drove in his second run on his 18th birthday with a sacrifice fly and the fourth came home on a wild pitch to make it 7-2.
“We were patient,’’ Toole said. “We knew we could score some runs. It was a matter of time.’’
With his pitch count around 100, Sharon was pulled with one out remaining, and Easton Dermody finished.
“I would have loved to have finished,’’ Sharon said.
Elam graduates five seniors: Tyler Rardin, Reiss, Hunter Nice, Logan Kruse and Zak Doty.
“Sad to see them go, but whatever they all choose to do, they’ll be successful because they’re all great kids,’’ Elam said. “We’d like to think we’ve got a pretty good corps of juniors coming back. We just flat told those guys, ‘If you’re not happy with the season you had right now, now that it’s over — and there shouldn’t be anybody that’s overjoyed with their stat line – if you want to get better you’ve got to put in the work.’’’
Meanwhile, the Titans will start preparations for Indianola.
“We’re happy. We’re on to step No. 2,’’ Toole said. “We feel good about where we’re at. We’ve just got to come Monday night. We want to go to Johnston.’’
Abraham Lincoln (13-26) 002 000 0 – 2 3 1
Lewis Central (23-13) 102 400 x – 7 7 1
W: Bryson Sharon. L: Kaden Baxter. 2B: LC, Sharon. 3B: AL, Tyler Reiss.