HARLAN – In a game that featured a total of 19 runners left on base, Underwood had the bases loaded with the score tied in the fourth inning Tuesday night, needing a big hit.
Drake Adair came to the plate and delivered.
Adair drove a hard ground ball past the Hinton shortstop on a 2-2 pitch to break a 2-2 tie with a two-run single and put the Eagles (26-4) ahead for good on the way to a 4-3 win in the Class 2-A, Substate 8 final.
Landon Nelson pitched six innings, Nick Ravlin pitched the seventh for his fourth save and a great game-ending play by Tyler Boothby at first base sent the Underwood fans into euphoria.
The Eagles are headed back to the state tournament for the first time since 2014 and will play Monday at Principal Park in Des Moines. The time and opponent will be decided during a seeding meeting on Tuesday.
“I had two strikes on me, so I was just trying to put the ball in play,” Adair said. “I stuck the bat out and thankfully found a hole, and this is something I have always dreamed of.”
Eagle coach Andy Vanfossan said he just wants his players to enjoy the atmosphere at state and do things the way they normally do.
“Seeing the boys dogpile on the field, they say good teams practice, but we didn’t practice it,” Vanfossan said. “We came up short last year, but tonight we did what we had to do to win all the way around.”
Ravlin put the Eagles on top before Hinton even got to bat, when he doubled to open the game and scored on a single by Blake Hall. Hall was driven home by a Zach Teten single later in the inning to put Underwood up 2-0.
Hinton’s Blake Beller, however, drew a walk and came around to score on an error to make it 2-1 in the bottom of the frame. Underwood starter Nelson fought out of trouble and was able to strike out Turner Schmitt with the bases loaded to keep the score unchanged.
Beller was at the forefront of the Blackhawks’ offense again in the third inning, when he led off the Hinton half with a double and scored on a two-out Andrew Hessa single. Nelson struck out Bryley Burgad to leave the bases loaded for the second time in the game, though.
Underwood answered right back in the top of the fourth, taking advantage of some wildness from Hinton pitcher Kyle Brighton. Brighton walked a pair, and an error loaded the bases, setting the stage for Adair’s big blow.
“The kid lives and breathes baseball,” Vanfossan said. “With his passion for the game, it was good to see him get the hit when he did.”
Hinton again struck right back with an Aiden Brock double and a Braden Vonk single to make it 4-3. After Vonk’s hit, Nelson retired the final nine batters he faced.
“Landon has started out slow all year, but when he gets in a groove, he does some good things,” Vanfossan said. “We have guys that compete and trust their defense to make plays.”
Hinton did get a one-out single in the bottom of the seventh from Tate Kounkel, but Ravlin retired the next two hitters to the end the game.
“We had plenty of opportunities but could not get a timely hit,” Blackhawk coach Cale Kramer said. “They had a couple of bounces go their way, and that is the way it goes.”
Underwood (26-4) 200 200 0 – 4 9 2
Hinton (26-5) 101 100 0 – 3 6 1
W: Landon Nelson (10-0). L: Kyle Brighton (6-1). S: Nick Ravlin (4). 2B: U, Nick Ravlin; H, Aiden Brock, Blake Beller.