DES MOINES — The margin of error was razor thin.
When Cedar Rapids Kennedy made an early miscue, Southeast Polk took advantage for the slimmest of leads and an eventual victory.
Sixth-seeded Southeast Polk knocked off No. 3 Kennedy, 1-0, in the Class 4A quarterfinals of the state baseball tournament Wednesday night in front of 2,750 spectators at Principal Park.
Anthony Schneider, who entered with a .402 batting average, 46 runs and 30 stolen bases, served as a catalyst for the Rams again, opening the game with a single before moving to third on an errant pickoff throw by Kennedy starter Sammy Lizarraga and scoring on Cody Hyler’s groundout. It was the lone score in a pitcher’s duel between Lizarraga and Southeast Polk’s Nick Arnold.
“The kids played tight early,” Kennedy Coach Bret Hoyer said. “I thought we did a real nice job of battling through that. Our pitchers did a fantastic job because we put them in some tough situations and they only gave up the one run. I’m real proud of them.”
Arnold made the early run hold up, mixing up his pitches for a five-hit shutout with seven strikeouts.
The Cougars threatened him a few times throughout the game, but didn’t get key contributions at pivotal moments.
Kennedy’s biggest opportunity came in the sixth when it loaded the bases with one out. Consecutive singles from Derek Jacobus and Zach Daniels didn’t lead to a run when Arnold handcuffed the heart of Kennedy’s lineup with a strikeout and an inning-ending double play.
“I felt real good there,” Hoyer said. “We just couldn’t put it together.”
Lizarraga provided the Cougars their first real threat to score by smashing a one-out double past the third baseman in the fourth inning. Arnold forced a groundout and a pop fly to end the inning. He also fended off Kennedy in the fifth when Dalles Jacobus led off with a single, moved to second with one out on Matt Stevens’ sacrifice bunt, but was stranded at third.
“We got runners on,” Daniels said. “We just couldn’t get them in. That’s pretty much why we lost that game.”
Lizarraga said Arnold had decent stuff on the mound, but the Cougars had seen talented pitching all season. The results could be attributed to Kennedy’s inability to convert. It seemed like many attempts were right at the Rams, setting up their defense perfectly to get out of jams.
“It was just one of those deals where we hit some balls well, hit some balls well in scoring position,” Hoyer said. “We just couldn’t get the run home.”
Lizarraga matched Arnold’s performance, holding Southeast Polk to just two hits. He settled down after the first-inning mistake. Lizarraga stifled the Rams offense, ending threats in the second and third when they had at least one runner in scoring position both times. Daniels threw one inning of scoreless relief.
The Cougars appeared glum after the game, realizing this campaign had ended. Lizarraga wanted to delay the final chapter for some players.
“I wanted to win for the seniors,” Lizarraga said. “It’s their last season. Just couldn’t get it done.”
Derek Jacobus was a three-year starter for Kennedy, playing on the 2012 state tournament team with older brother, Devon, and this season with younger brother, Dalles. He enjoyed the experience.
“It was a great season,” Derek Jacobus said. “We had the pitching to win us the tournament. We just didn’t have the hitting tonight.”
Derek Jacobus expects a bright future for the returning players in the Kennedy program. Daniels said the quarterfinal loss, and the way it played out, is a lesson learned for next year.
“We have a lot of young guys,” Daniels said. “We will take that into next season and we’ll come back next year.”
Kennedy closed the season with a 31-7 mark. The sting of the loss is fresh now, but as time progresses the Cougars will be able to put the summer into perspective.
“Eventually, a couple three weeks down the road, three months down the road, they will look back on the season they will be real proud of what they accomplished,” Hoyer said. “Metro Tournament champs, MVC champs, 30-plus win season (and) another trip to the state tournament, carrying on the tradition of Kennedy baseball.”
The Rams (30-13) will face another Mississippi Valley Conference Mississippi Division foe next in the semifinals at 8 p.m. Friday. Dubuque Hempstead (37-5) reached that semifinals in a 4-2 quarterfinal thriller over West Des Moines Valley.
Hempstead scored three runs in the sixth and then stopped a late rally, striking out the final two batters with the bases loaded in the seventh.
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