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Baseball: Linn-Mar Edges No. 3 West For State Berth

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IOWA CITY, Iowa Facing a 24-hour turnaround and the No. 3 team in Class 4A, the Linn-Mar baseball team had a daunting challenge in the Class 4A substate final last night.

The Lions (27-15) stared that challenge in the face, and behind the arm of senior Austin Stroschein, Linn-Mar held off Iowa City West, 4-3, for a state tournament berth.

"You can't describe the feeling (of getting the win); it's crazy," Stroschein said. "In a playoff game, we knew we'd have to battle.

"(The game plan) was to locate the baseball against a team like (West), because they're going to crush it, and (not to) make errors. If we made mistakes and kick it around the ballpark, then we're not going to win the ballgame. I think we won because we played good defense and didn't (commit errors)."

Tied 1-1 going into the sixth inning, the Lions put three runs on the board one off the bat of Stroschein, who had two RBIs on the night in almost the exact same situation they were in a night earlier in the win over Cedar Rapids Kennedy.

"The thing we talked about (in that situation) was controlling our emotions," said Linn-Mar coach Chad Lechner. "There wasn't anything we needed to change, we just needed to relax and trust ourselves."

The win sends Linn-Mar to state for the second straight year, and the upset victory will no doubt be credited to Stroschein. The senior went 6 2/3 innings, with seven strikeouts, four hits and eight walks on 135 pitches.

"He threw the ball fantastic all night," Lechner said. "To hold (West) to what he was able to, he did a lights-out job pitching."

Despite that performance, Lechner said he knew West (33-8) wasn't going out without a fight.

"It wasn't going to be easy 'til that final out," Lechner said. "They're such a good team, that they're going to put the ball in play, they're going to battle. They (were) not going to go away quietly."

And fight, the Trojans did.

Down to its final out, West did everything it could to extend its season. The Trojans loaded the bases on a laboring Stroschein, who then walked home a run before being pulled just one out from the complete game.

West brought the score to 4-3 on a wild pitch from reliever and Tuesday's winner Justin Wyant, but that was as close as it would get. Senior Sam Scott struck out to end the game and the Trojans' season.

"It's never easy," said West Coach Charlie Stumpff. "It leaves something in the pit of your stomach. (The players) are all hurting.

"Linn-Mar was (just) better tonight."

After the final pitch, as his players dogpiled on the pitchers' mound, a mixed look of joy and relief fell over Lechner's face. His pride in his team was evident, even if what had just happened hadn't quite dawned on him yet.

"It hasn't sunk in yet," Lechner said. "It's been a great group to coach, just a pleasure.

"I'm happy for them more than anything else."

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