ST. MARYS — It seemed like just another flyout that could lead to a run on a sacrifice fly, but that run would be of little consequence with Mount Ayr leading 8-2 in the seventh inning of Saturday’s district championship game at Martensdale-St. Marys.
Nobody in the stadium thought Martensdale-St. Marys baserunner Kasey Carter would be challenged trying to score on a sacrifice fly as Mount Ayr starting pitcher Jaydon Knight, now stationed at first base, camped under a fly ball that took him two steps into the right field grass.
Nobody, except Knight himself. Earlier, he had thrown 106 pitches, including six strikeouts. But, he was saving one last strike from 120 feet.
“It was one of those deals, I thought don’t even throw it, because I didn’t think he’d even have a chance at it,” Mount Ayr coach Chris Elwood said.
“Trae (Ehlen) was out in right field telling me, ‘No, no, no!’ But I thought, dude, my arm is telling me yes!” Knight said.
Knight trusted his strong left arm, and fired a laser shot to catcher Jaixen Frost, who tagged Carter for the game-ending double play.
“I saw that ball coming in perfectly,” Frost said. “The whole way in, it was on the money. It was a pretty close play. I tagged his shoe. I felt the spike in my glove.”
Mount Ayr supporters fanned across the east side of the stadium rejoiced in a loud cheer and made plans among themselves to hit the road again Tuesday to Oskaloosa. The Raiders (21-4) take on No. 7-ranked New London (24-1), which edged Sigourney, 4-3, in the other Class 1A Substate 5 semifinal and district championship Saturday night. Game time is 7 p.m.
The Raiders will seek the school’s second state tournament appearance. The previous one was in 2007.
It was the second victory of the season for Mount Ayr over the rival Blue Devils, who shared the Pride of Iowa Conference title with the Raiders at 12-1. Martensdale-St. Marys bowed out at 22-8 overall.
Both teams started tall lefthanders on the mound considered the ace of their respective staffs, although Blue Devil senior Carson Elbert had been limited to 15 innings this season with arm issues. Knight earned his second win over the Blue Devils this season, going six innings before running up against the 110-pitch limit.
Knight fanned five, walked three and allowed five hits before Dawson Swank pitched the scoreless seventh that began with a single by Carter, who was later gunned down at the plate by Knight on the double play.
Mount Ayr rallied from a 2-0 deficit to take a 3-2 lead in the top of the fourth, and added some cushion with five runs on four hits in the sixth. During that rally, Matt Hughes, the starter against Mount Ayr on July 7, was brought in to relieve Elbert.
“He (Elbert) might have run out of gas a little bit,” Martensdale-St. Marys coach Chris Kollbaum said. “He’d been out with a sore arm for quite a bit of the year. Mount Ayr rode the momentum and got it going. We hit the ball hard at times and got the bases loaded twice, but he (Knight) made plays when we hit it right to him both times.”
In the two games against the conference co-champs, Mount Ayr scored a combined 15 runs. On Saturday the Raiders finished with 10 hits, including two each by Frost, Erik Trujillo and Jace Grose, who also had two RBIs.
In the second inning Elbert retired Frost on strikes with two Raiders in scoring position, ending the threat. In the five-run sixth inning, Frost gained redemption. He blasted a two-run double deep into left field to give the Raiders a 5-2 lead.
After Elbert was relieved by Hughes, Ehlen was safe on a bunt and both Trujillo and Knight added run-scoring hits as 10 Raiders came to the plate during the inning.
“I was really impressed that both times that we played them, we got down two runs and didn’t roll over,” Elwood said. “It was great to get those three runs right away and get back into the game. Our kids were executing bunts well tonight.”
With Knight required to have four days rest after his 106-pitch outing Saturday, Briar Knapp will be on the mound Tuesday for the Raiders.
“Briar Knapp is a senior and he pitched a complete game for us against Lamoni (district semifinal),” Elwood said. “He’s been throwing fantastic now. And, Dawson Swank only had 10 pitches tonight so he’s available, too. We’re happy to be there and have a chance. We’re willing to take on anyone.”
In Substate 7, CAM edged Lenox, 7-6, or the District 13 title. The Cougars (25-6) will take on St. Albert Catholic, which topped Exira/Elk Horn-Kimballton, 3-2, in District 14.
Lane Spieker had three of CAM’s 11 hits against the Tigers, who bow out at 21-12. Samon Adams had a two-run double for the Tigers and pitcher Keegan Christensen totaled four strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings pitched.