Harpenau, Hawks stifle Spartans in quarterfinal

Grundy Center junior Brayden Sawyer holds up the state participant trophy after Grundy Center's state quarterfinal loss to Remsen St. Mary's at Merchants Park in Carroll on Monday, July 26, 2021. (Jake Ryder photo)
Jake Ryder

CARROLL – There was no immediate joy for Grundy Center baseball on Monday morning at Merchants Park.

Remsen St. Mary's had lived up to its billing as the top seed in the state tournament, and the seasoned Hawks made short work of the Spartans, a 14-0 final in five innings to kick off the Class 1A tournament in quarterfinal action.

After the game, though, there were plenty of reasons to be optimistic about a Grundy Center team that finally got a chance to shine on the state stage for the first time in nearly 30 years, a team that could potentially bring back every one of its players for next summer, in concert with a talented lower-level program working its way up to the high school ranks.

"This feels like a turning point in our program," Grundy Center junior Sloan Klar said. "I feel like we're just gonna keep building on from here."

But Monday's game itself, was one to forget in an otherwise unforgettable season.

Remsen St. Mary's, making its sixth-consecutive state appearance, jumped all over the Spartans early in the first inning with three runs on five hits, including three infield hits on well-placed balls that the Hawks simply outran.

By the end of the second inning, it was 4-0 Hawks.

The floodgates opened in the fourth inning, as Remsen scored 10 runs in total, including seven before the Spartans were able to record their first out of the inning.

Grundy Center starter Brayden Sawyer left after allowing nine earned runs on 15 hits with four strikeouts in three total innings.

"My goal is always to throw strikes," Sawyer said. "But sometimes I'd leave it in the middle of the plate and they'd hit it hard, so I tried to move it outside a bit to try and keep them honest."

Brown Jr. elaborated: "He's a good pitcher that he's got such control and I think he was trying to be a little too finesse when you've just got to burn them, and throw them in the dirt."

Logan Knaack came on for an inning of relief, allowing one earned run on three hits with one walk and two strikeouts.

"I think the lights and glimmer might have got us just a bit," Pat Brown Jr. said. "We had to stay away from that one big inning, and they ended up having several innings."

Remsen finished with 18 hits and added four unearned runs on two Spartan errors.

Cael Ortmann had three hits with five RBI to lead the Hawks; Alex Schroeder added two hits and four RBI.

"We knew their pitcher had only walked three guys so we talked about being aggressive and trying to put the pressure on," Remsen St. Mary's coach Dean Harpenau said. "We thought we could pressure them and see how they react to that pressure. … It's hard here because once that gets rolling, it's hard to get it stopped."

Offensively, the Spartans couldn't hit Blaine Harpenau, the Remsen starter that struck out nine in four and two-thirds innings with one walk, a lead-off walk to Dayne Zinkula, the only baserunner the Spartans had while Harpenau was on the mound.

Dean Harpenau noted that he wanted to pull Blaine before 65 pitches to save him a chance to pitch again on Thursday, should the Hawks make it to the state championship game.

"He was moving quick and throwing hard strikes," Bryce Greiner said. "We just had to go up there and swing the bat, look for those fast balls. But he's a really good pitcher."

Greiner was the only Spartan to collect a hit off the Hawks on Monday, slamming an Isaiah Gerrietts pitch to the wall in left-center for a double.

"It was good to not get completely shut out of a hit," Greiner said.

The experience itself will be memorable for the Spartans, waking up early on Monday morning for the ride to Carroll, including a stop in Boone for some McDonald's.

"We had some fun jamming to music on the way down," said Greiner, noting that Eminem and some hard rock were on the playlist. "It was a good experience. … It's great to know that our community is behind us the whole way, win or lose."

Nothing's guaranteed, but the Spartans are well set up to continue their successful ways in 2022.

"This will definitely help us work harder for next year," Sawyer said. "It was a great experience for us, even though we didn't get that big moment, we'll be back."

And Brown Jr. said sometimes the hardest part is just getting up the gumption to make a date with the state tournament.

"This is kind of a crazy analogy but it's like a first date," Brown Jr. continued. "The hardest part of the first date is asking that girl out. And then after that, you get more comfortable. The second time is easier. We've got good kids that have good manners, but they just had to have that courage. Now they've got that courage, and they'll be back here next year."


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