By Jeff Yoder
The tying runs were on base as Mid-Prairie freshman Brady Weber fired the pivotal pitch of Tuesday’s substate final to the Trojans' senior cleanup batter with two outs in the seventh.
The ball was sent into deep left field. Collin Miller drifted back, settled under it, and ended the suspense with the final out.
Nervous optimism gave way to absolute euphoria as the Golden Hawks claimed a state tournament banner for the second time in three seasons with the 3-1 win over No. 7 West Marshall.
“I honestly didn't even think about the wall,” said Miller about the final out. “I was just tracking that ball back and back. I felt the catch and I felt myself hit the warning track and it was just amazing, everything about the moment.”
It was fitting that the final out would come from the glove of Miller, who struck out 12 batters after taking the mound in the first inning following an injury to starter Karson Grout.
The Trojans got on the scoreboard with a run in the fifth inning and put pressure on Miller in the sixth. With runners on the corners and no outs, Miller struck out the side to take the two-run lead to the seventh.
“I knew I had to start locating. It was up here,” said Miller pointing to his head. “I just got mad at myself for letting them get there and I just turned that into fuel and I got going.”
Miller pitched around four walks to earn his second win of the postseason.
“Collin was Collin,” Mid-Prairie coach Kyle Mullet said. “Just the way he competes. This game is more mental, in the way you compete and your mindset going into it, than it is physical. It doesn't matter if you do have your stuff, if you're not out there with a present mind and confident in yourself, you’re not going to get the job done.”
As a freshman closer, Miller pitched the final inning of the Golden Hawks’ 9-7 substate win over Central Lee in 2020. After a seventh-inning walk brought him to his pitch count limit on Tuesday, he gave the ball to his freshman teammate.
“I told him exactly what they told me when I got out there,” Miller said. “Just be confident, throw your pitches, they're going to come, and you’ve got a great defense behind you.”
A strikeout brought the Golden Hawks within a run of the state quarterfinals.
“I was very relieved when I got that strikeout, that put a lot of relief in there, just to have two outs,” Weber said.
“I was very happy when it came down in play,” he said about the final out. “I thought for a second it might go, but I was very happy when Collin had my back. It was just awesome.”
It’s the first state tournament trip as a head coach for Mullet in his second season as the Golden Hawk skipper.
Mid-Prairie reached the substate final last year, but the fourth-ranked Golden Hawks were upset by a Davis County team with a losing record.
“After going through that last year, it's all we've talked about since day one,” Mullet said. “Week one, we talked about how we want to get better and better and be playing our best baseball this time of year. So hats off to those guys, it's what makes it special — seeing these guys playing their best and having fun.”
Mid-Prairie got all the offense it needed in the first inning with three runs on three hits off of sophomore Owen Siegert, who had allowed just four earned runs in nine starts entering the game.
Cain Brown got the Golden Hawk offense started on the right foot, poking a bloop single over the Trojan infield to lead off the substate final.
“There's no better two-strike hitter in the state of Iowa than Cain Brown,” Mullet said about his leadoff hitter, who reached base three times. “He gets it. He understands with two strikes on you, you’ve got to protect and sometimes it's just a matter of throwing the bat out there."
Brock Harland drew a walk and Grout singled to load the bases for Alex Bean. Bean’s bases-loaded walk scored a run, and Dylan Henry singled to put the Golden Hawks ahead 2-0.
Tyler Helmuth’s groundout would give the Trojans their first out, and scored Mid-Prairie’s final run.
“That was our goal, to come out, and punch them in the face right away,” said Helmuth, who also had a single in the fourth. “We knew that they're a good hitting team and we had to do something about it.”
Helmuth and his fellow senior Will Cavanagh saw their high school football careers end with a 26-14 loss at West Marshall during the round of 16 in October.
“It sucked, like really bad,” Helmuth said. "Me and Will were talking about it. We wanted revenge — and we got it.”
The Golden Hawks will face fellow River Valley Conference member No. 3 Cascade in a state quarterfinal game at Merchants Park in Carroll.
Cascade won the regular season matchup 3-0 at home on June 9, with just four hits off of three Golden Hawk pitchers.
The first pitch is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 19.
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