WAUKEE – The Warriors were threatening to break it open early.
Waukee was leading 3-0 with one out and the bases loaded in the third inning against Abraham Lincoln when Waukee’s Ethan Rose mashed what looked to be a grand slam over the center-field fence.
However, A.L. sophomore Ben Fichter tracked back, leapt as high as he could and snagged it on the other side before throwing it to the cutoff man, turning Rose’s bomb into an RBI sacrifice fly.
“I was kind of shocked,” said Fichter, who was an infielder before this season. “I looked at my glove right when I caught it, and I was like ‘Oh.’”
“My buddy Andrew (Christensen) in right field came over and was all hyped up, and that kind of got me hyped up. It got the team going.”
A.L. came back with two runs on three hits and an error in the second inning to make it a two-run game, and it stayed that way until Waukee put together a three-run sixth-inning rally to cap a 7-2 victory in a Class 4-A first-round substate game Friday night.
Class 4A No. 8 Waukee (27-11) will host Lewis Central (20-14) in the substate semifinal at 7 p.m. Monday.
Despite the outcome, Waukee coach Dave Dirkx said Fichter’s stunning play had a noticeable impact on the rest of the game.
“That kind of changed the whole momentum for us,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve seen a ball caught like that in high school.
“And then you throw a ball away and you give them runs back, you go a couple of innings without scoring, and everything tightens up a little bit.”
The Warriors started to regain control of the game when they opened the bottom of the sixth inning with back-to-back walks by their No. 8 and 9 hitters. That set up leadoff hitter Nolan Roethler – a University of Iowa track recruit – to drive in the first run of the inning.
Three batters later, Tyler Cleven knocked in two more. Junior pitcher Tyler Rardin relieved starter Hunter Nice after 5 1/3 innings of work and got the last two outs, but the damage was done.
“If we don’t give up three runs there in the bottom of six, going into the top of seven with the top of the lineup up, 4-2 is a lot different game,” A.L. coach Brett Elam said. “It’s a whole different approach for them defensively also, throwing to our top of the lineup. You get one guy on and you get to Daulton (Wilcoxen) in the cleanup role, and it could be a tie game real easily.”
In seven innings, Waukee senior ace Drew Irvine limited A.L. to two runs (one earned) on seven hits, fanning three, walking two and hitting one. He walked Fichter with one out in the seventh, but a double play ended it.
The Warriors first took the lead with an unearned run in the first. They extended it to three with designated hitter Zach Pierson’s two-run double to the gap in right-center in the second, and Rose’s long sac fly RBI made it 4-0 in the third.
The Lynx’s first run came in the fourth after an errant throw on an attempt to turn two on a ground ball. A strong at-bat by Tyler Reiss subsequently trimmed the lead to two. After fouling off four pitches, the junior sent a chopper up the middle and reached base on an infield RBI single.
“We just wanted to come up here and put up a good fight,” Wilcoxen said. “I feel like we did.”
Elam said he liked his team’s focus and approach overall, but said the Lynx made too many mistakes, committing three errors on the night. He referred to the game as “a microcosm of the season.”
“When you don’t make routine plays, at some point they’re going to come back and bite you,” Elam said. “And we gave them two or three runs tonight.”
The Lynx close the year at 15-23. They graduate three seniors in Wilcoxen, Trevor Haase and Tristen Arrick.
“We’ve got a bunch of underclassmen that got time (left),” Elam said. “You’re facing a Waukee team that has 19 seniors on the roster.
“If we get after it in the offseason and put in the work to get better, stronger, faster, then who knows what could happen next year?”
Abraham Lincoln (15-23) 000 200 0 – 2 7 3
Waukee (27-11) 121 003 X – 7 10 3
W: Drew Irvine. L: Hunter Nice
2B: W, Zach Pierson.