Baseball: Keller's Blast Sends Xavier To State Tournament
By Jeff Johnson (Story) and Chris Earl (Video), Reporter
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Mitch Keller was supposed to win the game with his arm, but doing it with his bat worked out just fine.
The highly touted junior pitcher hit a three-run home run with two outs in the bottom of the 12th inning to give Cedar Rapids Xavier a 8-5 win over Cedar Rapids Prairie in one fine Class 4A substate final baseball game Wednesday night at Xavier.
It’s the sixth state tournament trip for Xavier, though the first one in Class 4A. The others, including a state championship in 2006, came in 3A.
Xavier (25-15) is the sixth seed and plays Sioux City East (30-9) in a quarterfinal Wednesday night at 6 at Principal Park in Des Moines.
“I just got a pitch to drive,” Keller said. “I was going up there hacking. I didn’t want to go back on the field.”
A University of North Carolina commit with a 90-mile-per-hour fastball, Keller gave up five runs (three earned) in eight-plus innings of pitching. Xavier’s Ryan Meaney was hit by a Ty Mougin pitch with two outs in the 12th, then Jacob Harriott walked.
Keller picked on a 1-1 fastball and drove it, no-doubt style, over the fence in left, with a massive dog pile eventually convening at home plate. Prairie coach Matt Thede appealed to the three-man umpiring crew that Xavier’s second runner (Harriott) missed third base on the way home, and replays provided by KCRG-TV supported that, showing Harriott got to second base and ran home to celebrate, abandoning the basepaths.
It was bang-bang, frankly, whether Meaney touched home before Harriott abandoned the bases. At any rate, the umpires ruled a three-run homer, and that was that.
“I don’t even know how long that game went,” an exhausted Keller said. “I was tired.”
“How many innings was that?” added Xavier coach Dave Schemmel. “I have no idea. It felt like a double-header.”
Prairie (27-13) got two unearned runs in the top of the first inning against Keller, scoring when Saints third baseman Zach Brown airmailed a throw over first base after fielding a two-out routine grounder. Brown would wind up more than atoning for that miscue, throwing four shutout relief innings to get the win.
Xavier came right back against Prairie starting pitcher Mitch Adams with four unearned runs in the bottom of the first. The first two runs scored on a grounder to shortstop, in which Prairie’s Ty Mougin threw to third base for a force out, only to have third baseman Tyler Butz appear to have the throw kicked out of his glove by a sliding Corbin Woods.
Thede argued vehemently that Woods should have been called out, but after a long conference between the umpires, the play stood. A sacrifice fly and RBI single from Luke Hammerberg followed.
“Man, I just thought we looked a little tired in those later innings,” said Thede, whose club played a suspended substate semifinal against Marshalltown that began Monday night and ended Tuesday nights. “But we just battled. What a battle that was. Both teams had opportunities, and finally someone came through with two outs.”
Prairie tied the game in the fourth, thanks to the potency of its eighth and ninth hitters. Blake Stallman singled to right field to score Tyler Votroubek with two outs, moved to second on the throw home and scored on Corbin Day’s nearly identical RBI single to right.
Xavier chased Adams in the fifth, scoring a run on back-to-back doubles from Brown and Jordan Ratz. But the Saints could have had more, stranding the bases loaded.
That lost opportunity came back to haunt when Prairie tied the game at 5-5 in the sixth on an RBI hit from the ever-present Day. He went 3-for-4 with a walk in the game.
Brennan Hammer gave Prairie six shutout innings in relief but had to be taken out for the 12th because of inning-limitation rules. He threw Tuesday against Marshalltown.
With number three pitcher Spencer Dean suffering from a sore arm, Thede went with Mougin.
“I put him in a tough position,” the coach said.
“I had a feeling someone was going to hit a ball hard,” Schemmel said. “We had guys in scoring position, it was just that one two-out hit. From now on, two-out hits win games. It’s just that simple … Keller, right man, right spot.”
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