Another stunner from the Spartans

GRUNDY CENTER – Baseball can be a weird game.

Janesville came into its Class 1A District 5 final hitting .396 as a team, pitching to a team earned run average of 3.74 and was 20-4 on the year.

Grundy Center was six games under .500, hitting just .255 as a team and the team earned run average was 5.33.

Statistics can be thrown out the window in the playoffs though. None of it matters and none of it mattered at the George E. Wilhelm Sports Complex on Saturday.

The Spartans held heavily-favored Janesville to six hits and no runs thanks to a stellar pitching performance from one of its two seniors as Jordan Clapp moved to 8-1 after striking out seven and walking none in the team’s 2-0 victory.

It has been a long time since the Spartans claimed a district championship and they will try to advance to their first state baseball tournament since 1993 when they head to Traer on Tuesday to face another heavily-favored squad in seventh-ranked BGM.

“For how young we are, it’s amazing how much this team believes,” said Spartan sophomore Grant Weldon, who had the only RBI of the game and gave the Spartans a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. “We came through at clutch times and pulled it out. We definitely showed we deserve to be here.”

Clapp is the only pitcher in 2014 to put up a goose egg against Janesville, which features five players hitting .417 or better. The Spartan senior kept the Wildcats’ top batters off balance with a steady diet of curveballs and mixed up his pitches well.

It also was Clapp’s first complete-game shutout of the season and he needed just 84 pitches to get it.

“They are a good hitting team. We knew we had to throw strikes and play our ‘A’ game,” Clapp said. “I tried to mix them up with the fast ball and the curve and I went with more off speeds than I usually do. I tried to keep their best hitters off balance.”

The Spartans jumped out in front in the third inning and that single run wound up as the game-winner. Eighth-grader Jake Bangasser started the inning with a single and then senior Bryce Moats reached base on a fielder’s choice. He moved to second after Wildcat starter Hunter Meyer was called for a balk and then Weldon’s RBI double into the corner in right field made it 1-0.

Sawyer Bowen reached on an error with one out in the fifth inning and then moved up to second on a sacrifice bunt by Bangasser. Moats’ infield single moved Bowen to third and the eighth-grader scored on Meyer’s wild pitch.

“Getting up early was huge. That was the best hit he had all year and that was clutch,” said Grundy Center coach Jacob Grafenberg of Weldon’s double. “Bringing in that run there was very important. That put the pressure on them and got our momentum going, and that’s important for our guys. We play a lot better when the momentum’s on our side.”

Janesville had one more hit (6) than the Spartans (5), but the Wildcats went 1-for-8 with runner’s in scoring position against Clapp. They reached second base in the fourth, fifth and seventh innings but only got to third one time.

“It just wasn’t our night. Hats off to Grundy Center. The kid pitched a great game,” said Janesville coach Randy Olmstead. “We didn’t have a single walk all night and when we hit the ball it was right at somebody. That’s the way it goes sometimes.”

Jeff Thode had three hits in the game for the Wildcats, while Taylor Schmidt collected two of the team’s other three hits. But Clapp kept the plate clean throughout the night and got some big plays from his defense as well.

Moats made a diving catch in center field in the first inning to rob Austin Goreham of a hit. Garrett Weldon also snagged a hard liner from Noah Dodd at second base with a runner on second base and Grant Weldon made a big play at third base to keep Janesville off the bases in the seventh inning.

Grafenberg considered using his other senior – Moats – in the seventh inning but saving him for the substate final may end up helping the Spartans in their quest to break a long state tournament appearance drought. Moats came into the game with a 0.79 ERA and two saves but can now be used more extensively against a good BGM squad.

“Jordan pitched a great game. This was our seniors’ last time playing on this field,” said Grafenberg. “Bryce was ready to go if I needed him. I have confidence that Jordan will let me know if he’s not ready. And I will probably need (Moats) a lot longer Tuesday so now I can use him however I want.”

Meyer allowed just five hits and one earned run in his seven innings on the mound. He fanned two and hit two Spartan batters in ending his final season at 5-3.

“We played great all season but tonight we just couldn’t score a run and that hasn’t happened to us all year long,” said Olmstead. “They found some holes with their hits and we didn’t.

“Hunter had a great outing. The one hard hit they had all night found the perfect spot.”

BGM (24-2) will take an 11-game win streak into Tuesday’s Substate 3 contest against the Spartans. The Bears beat Iowa Valley 4-0 on Saturday and Jack Kline tossed a no-hitter with seven strikeouts.

The Spartans will most likely face BGM senior ace Zac Freese at the plate. Freese comes into the game 13-0 with an earned run average of 0.50 and has 91 strikeouts in 70 1/3 innings pitched.

“It feels great. To do something like this that hasn’t been done at Grundy Center in a long time feels nice,” said Clapp. “We have a lot of heart and play as a team. That has been key.”

Notebook

The Spartans have now won four straight games and five of their last six. … Janesville’s 20-5 record is one of the best seasons in school history, according to Olmstead. The Wildcats started the year 16-1 but suffered four losses in their last eight games. … Moats had one of the Spartans’ five hits and now has a team-high 37 runs scored this season. … Janesville hit three balls right back the Clapp on the mound, including one with runners on second and third and just one out in the fourth.