By Doug Brenneman, JOURNAL Sports
FAIRFIELD -- Playoffs are demanding. Whether it is the opening round, the first round of state or the championship, it is the little things that can make the difference in the outcome of a baseball game.
In a game with only five total hits, it was the little things that gave Iowa City Liberty a 3-1 victory over Wahington in an Iowa High School Athletic Association Class 3A District 10 opening-round game Saturday.
The game had been postponed from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, then from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday. The teams finally took the field under a sweltering sun. While the weather was warm, the bats were not.
Washington?s Landon Hinckley got the first hit of the game with a lead-off single in the third inning. Kole Hinrichsen started for the Demons and gave up one hit and that was to the second batter of the fourth inning. Liberty had just one other hit and that was in the eighth inning and it would become the second Liberty run.
?It?s a tough game to throw a two-hitter and get beat,? Washington head coach Nathan Miller said.
Scoring a run without a hit is the way to manufacture a score and that helped make the difference Saturday.
?That?s the postseason,? Miller said. ?Little things can define the finish.?
Liberty took a 1-0 lead in the second inning on two throwing errors, and an improperly executed pickoff.
?The execution of some things was hard to see because we had just worked on those things in Wednesday?s and Thursday?s practices,? Miller said. ?I felt really good about my team knowing about certain situations but then we just did not execute. What really hurt us in the end was the errors in the second inning. That and walks ended up coming back to bite us.?
After the hit, a walk, a hit batter and wild pitches led to the eighth-inning Liberty runs that decided the game.
?We were able to take advantage of a few of their mistakes,? Liberty head coach Tom Cronk said. ?The ball bounced our way and good things happened for us. Nate has done a great job with that team and they are really talented but the ball bounced our way. We just took advantage of some things.?
Hinrichsen struck out seven and walked three in his four innings of work. Chase McDole replaced him to start the fifth inning. He struck out three and walked two before Luke Turner came in to get the last two outs of the eighth inning.
?I thought our pitchers did well overall,? Miller said. ?It just comes down to a few things defensively. A couple walks will always come back and get you.?
Luke Turner had two hits for Washington including his liner to right field to lead off the eighth inning. He stole second, but was stranded there as the Demons had two strikeouts and a fly out to end the game.
?We have been struggling for about a week and a half at the plate,? Miller said. ?I was just hoping that we would crack out of it. We just didn?t. I think it is our approach at the play. It has been hesitant. We have been preaching to the kids to look for a fastball early and drive it. We didn?t do that and put ourselves behind in the count a lot of times.?
The Demons struck out 10 times in the game and at least once in every inning but the third.
?We had our opportunities,? Miller said. ?We got runners to second and didn?t do anything.?
The Demons had runners to at least second base in five of the eight innings.
?In an 0-1 game or 1-1 game, we have to be able to come up with that two-out hit,? Miller said. ?We did not have that. We obviously struggled at the plate.?
Liberty (11-21) advances to play Fairfield (29-8), a 12-0 winner over Fort Madison, Monday at Fairfield.
?We were just lucky to survive and advance,? Cronk said. ?We had no pressure on us and when you are the underdog, there is no pressure on you.?
Washington finishes a very successful season with its record at 21-12. It is the first season of at least 20 wins since 2012.
?I thanked the seniors,? Miller said of his postgame talk. ?(Kiowa Keith, Jacob Hall, Erik Murphy and Landon Hinckley) are a big part of why our culture has changed. We have guys that are thinking about each other, that are working for each other. That is why we had such a successful regular season. We were in the conference race all the way to the end. Now they have to hand it to the juniors and sophomores and freshmen and have them follow their lead.?