Spartans’ surprising run ends

TRAER – Jordan Clapp and Bryce Moats have shouldered the burden of leading a young squad all season.

That season-long grind coupled with weight of the big moment finally caught up with the Spartan seniors and their teammates Tuesday.

Handcuffed by six errors including three that each led to runs in the third, the Grundy Center baseball team’s postseason run ended in a 5-2 loss to No. 7 BGM in the Class 1A Substate 3 Final at J.L. Lister Field.

The Bears (25-2) earned their first trip to the Iowa Boys State Baseball Tournament in school history after coming up a game short the previous two seasons. BGM claimed the eight seed and will face top-seeded and No. 2 ranked Mason City Newman Catholic (34-3) Friday at 11 a.m. in a first-round matchup at Principal Park in Des Moines.

“I think today, with as big of a game as it is, our age really showed,” Spartan coach Jacob Grafenberg said of his squad which features two seniors, five sophomores, four freshman and three eighth-graders.

“Our two seniors have had a lot of pressure on them the whole season with a group so young and that gets to be a lot for these guys. They both had a great year and they both did their job the whole season. It just got to be a little too much.”

A fourth-inning flurry of errors proved too much for Grundy Center (13-19) to overcome, as BGM broke open a 1-1 game with three runs each scoring by error.

Kaiden Fiekelborn singled, Jake Tibbetts doubled over Moats’ outstretched glove in center and Grafenberg paid a visit to the mound. Jordan Clapp fanned Dalton Jack for the second out before things came apart on the next at-bat.

Jayce Knight reached on an error to score Fiekelborn and pinch runner Cooper Puls also came across on the play with a botched rundown between third and the plate. Jack Kline reached on a mishandled throw at first allowing Knight to push the lead to 4-1.

The Spartans eventually escaped the inning when Kline was caught stealing second, but Grundy Center had dug itself too deep a hole.

The Spartan seniors continued to try and pull their teammates along in the sixth as Moats led off with a single and Jordan Clapp ripped a double past third to close the deficit to 4-2. The rally ended on a double play when Jared Clapp flied out to left and Jordan Clapp didn’t get back to second in time.

Two more errors cost Grundy Center in the bottom half with a mishandled pickoff throw at first allowing Jack to steal second. Grafenberg made another trip to the hill and Moats retired Knight on strikes before BGM plated its final run with Kline reaching on the Spartans’ sixth error of the game. The Bears scored four of their five runs unearned and with two outs.

Mayson Sherwood doubled down the left field line to plate Knight for a 1-0 edge in the third, though the Spartans limited the damage with Moats gunning down Sherwood at the plate on Kyle Gritsch’s single.

Grundy Center tied it up in its ensuing at-bat on Austin Burroughs’ sac fly to left. Moats led off with a walk – representing his team’s first base runner of the game – and moved to second on Grant Weldon’s bunt single. Jared Clapp followed with a single past short to load the bases and set up Burroughs’ RBI.

Despite a sub-.500 record and up-and-down season, the Spartans came in believing they were on BGM’s level and proved it for much of Tuesday’s contest before the miscues started to pile up.

“We came in here pretty confident,” Jordan Clapp said. “We knew we had a chance against them and the errors just got to us. That’s all it was.”

Clapp (8-2) suffered the loss allowing four runs (three earned) on six hits in four innings. He struck out two and walked none. Moats walked three and fanned three, while allowing one unearned run over two frames.

Zac Freese scattered four hits over seven innings to improve to 14-0. The senior struck out seven and issued a pair of walks.

“Zac did a nice job pitching out of a couple jams,” BGM coach Jerod Burns. “The first time through the lineup he did a really nice job locating and getting outs.

“We made the plays we needed to defensivelyWe just got the big hits when we needed them and they kind of helped us out a lot too.”

The Spartans started the season 1-5 and were as far as nine games below .500 before making a late season surge winning five or their last seven.

“I saw a lot of heart and a lot of confidence in these guys, especially these two seniors,” Grafenberg said. “We had no juniors this year so the guys that are coming back are coming back for two more years. Seeing that and the potential they have, as long as they keep working, we’re going to have a great ball club in the next few years.”

Notebook

Friday’s winner will play either No. 6 Don Bosco (30-3) or No. 8 Martsendale-St. Marys (33-7) in a semifinal game July 31 at noon. … Clapp will continue his career at Grand View University and Moats will extend his at Wartburg.