DES MOINES – There’s always danger in extracting too much from one regular-season baseball game.
But it was hard to ignore the start to Lewis Central’s week. The Titans lost 11-2 on Monday to an improved Thomas Jefferson team that has made great strides recently, but still entered postseason play at 8-26.
“The way the week started off, I was really nervous going into this game,’’ L.C. coach Lee Toole said.
Contrast that with Des Moines Lincoln’s 3-2 win over top-rated Johnston eight nights before its substate opener.
Despite those unwelcome variables, fourth-seeded Lewis Central opened Class 4-A substate action Friday with a 12-3 thrashing of third-seeded Lincoln at Hoover’s Bob Watson Field.
“When we’re on, we’re on. But when we’re off, we’re off,’’ Titan senior Dane Theobald said. “Once we started off good, we all felt the momentum.’’
Lewis Central improved to 20-14 and will carry that momentum into Monday’s semifinal game at second-seeded, eighth-rated Waukee (27-11). The winner will play at top-seeded, ninth-rated West Des Moines Dowling (28-11) in Wednesday’s substate final.
Des Moines Lincoln, which started 5-12 but then rattled off wins in 16 of its last 20 regular-season games, closed at 21-17.
“We just had a really strong finish, so we expected to come out and play a lot better than we did,’’ Lincoln coach Kris Campbell said. “You’ve got to give Lewis Central credit. They hit the baseball and capitalized on our (six) errors.’’
The Titans lashed 13 hits and got an excellent complete-game pitching performance from junior Drake Nettles. He allowed seven hits and struck out six, walking no one and hitting one.
“Some of our kids weren’t expecting some of the pitch mix-up he was doing,’’ Campbell said. “He did a really good job of throwing strikes early in the count.’’
It was a dramatic shift from Monday, when Nettles pitched two innings against T.J. and allowed six runs, four earned.
Nettles (6-2) has had impeccable control this season, walking only five batters in 50.2 innings.
“We have a lot of confidence in him,’’ Theobald said. “He knows what he’s doing. He’s been doing this a long time.’’
Nettles’ two-run single staked the Titans to a 3-0 lead after two innings, and they broke it open with a seven-run third inning. Colbey Roth’s two-run triple over the centerfielder’s head highlighted the frame, while Jake Powell and Tyler Burns added RBI singles, and Nettles and Zach Brown also drove in runs.
L.C. stroked five extra-base hits in all. Nettles finished 3 for 4 with three RBIs, and Roth, Powell, Burns and Easton Dermody added two hits apiece.
“We’ve been so up and down that you never know which team’s going to show up to hit,’’ Toole said. “These kids came out and battled.’’
Leading 12-0 in the fifth, the Titans nearly settled things early. But the Railsplitters opened their half of the fifth with five straight singles to extend the game at 12-3.
Then the team’s best hitter, TJ Mahoney, ripped a screamer at second baseman Dermody, who flipped to first for a double play. Nettles induced a groundout to escape further damage.
Toole wants to see more of the same competitive fire on Monday when his club faces a talented Waukee bunch.
Theobald, who will be hustling to Waukee from Shrine Bowl football preparations in Cedar Falls, said his team should enter the game with a winning mindset.
“I wouldn’t overlook us, by any means,’’ he said.
LC (20-14) 127 110 0 – 12 13 0
DM Lincoln (21-17) 000 003 0 – 3 7 6
W: Drake Nettles (6-2). L: Zach Williams (4-3). 2B: LC, Nettles, Dane Theobald, Jake Powell, Tyler Burns. 3B: LC, Colbey Roth.