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IOWA CITY – Braden Houston used his arm, his bat, his glove and his composure to help the West High baseball team edge City High 3-2 on Thursday at Trojan Field.
Houston stayed calm and focused after allowing a home run to the first batter he faced in the game and after the Little Hawks had loaded the bases in the sixth inning thanks mostly to two West High errors.
Houston regrouped in both cases and would go on to throw a complete game four-hitter with six strikeouts.
He also had two hits, drove in one run and quelled a potential rally by fielding a hard grounder with the bases loaded in the sixth inning and throwing home for the second out. Catcher Lucas Karwal then threw to first base for the third and final out.
City High also threatened in the seventh inning, but Houston pitched and fielded his way out of that jam, too.
“Composure has always been an issue for me, especially when I was young,” Houston said. “Going into high school, I knew it was a huge factor when you pitch. You’ve got to move on. Each inning is different. Each out is different. Each pitch is different.”
Fans barely had settled in their seats when City High centerfielder D.J. Heck belted a home run to lead off the game.
“That’s all on me, I left a fast ball up and middle in,” Houston said of the pitch that Heck smacked over the fence in left field. “It was just right there and he hit it hard.
“That’s a credit to him, honestly. I made the bad pitch and he made a better hit.”
Heck’s blast came on one of the few bad pitches that Houston threw during the game. He only walked one batter and that came in the seventh inning.
City High’s second run was unearned and came in the sixth inning thanks largely to two throwing errors by West High.
Houston kept his composure and used his defensive prowess to escape from the sixth and seventh innings by assisting on two huge double plays. He was quick off the mound and showed why he starts at shortstop when he isn’t pitching.
“Playing shortstop my whole life and playing anywhere in the infield has helped me field my position and know where everything is situationally,” Houston said. “Every time I get on the mound I take that five seconds before I step on and I look at my situation and any ball hit at me I know what to do with it.”
West High improved to 11-4 overall and 4-3 in the Mississippi Valley Conference, while City High fell to 9-5 and 4-3 in the conference.
The Little Hawks won’t have to wait long for a chance to avenge the loss with the teams scheduled to play on Friday at Mercer Park.
City High and West High now have a tradition of playing on back-to-back days in baseball instead of having a doubleheader.
“I love it. I think it’s a lot of fun for everybody,” City High coach Brian Mitchell said of playing on back-to-back days. “First of all, you get your sophomores out before and that’s fun for them.
“I think it’s the best way to do it and it brings two nights of good baseball. You can kind of regroup, and hopefully, bring it again.”
City High starting pitcher Ry Threlkeld-Wiegand cruised through the first two innings, recording five of his first six outs with strikeouts.
But he walked Alex Granner to start the third inning and that eventually led to trouble as West High became aggressive on the base paths and that helped to manufacture two runs on just two hits. The Trojans stole five bases in the third inning.
West High expanded the lead to 3-1 in the fourth inning as Granner drove in the run with a double.
That proved to be enough runs for Houston, but just barely as City High loaded the bases in the sixth, but only scored one run.
West High coach Charlie Stumpff was pleased with the victory, but not with his team’s overall performance. In addition to committing two errors, the Trojans also had two runners picked off the base paths.
“That was not very good, but Braden just bailed us out all night,” Stumpff said. “He gave up the first-inning home run and after that he was phenomenal.
“In the sixth inning, you talk about the wheels coming off. A bunt, the first baseman misses the ball and then we boot another ball and another bunt hit. He battled through that, so he bailed us out and he showed real good poise.”
West High will be without one of its top players in Friday’s rematch as junior center fielder Jason Strunk will serve a one-day suspension after being ejected from Thursday’s game in the sixth inning apparently for arguing balls and strikes.
Strunk was walking back to the dugout after striking out for the second time and apparently said something that caused the home plate umpire to toss him from the game.
“I think it was a culmination,” Stumpff said. “Jason was saying they had a little dialogue about what was going on.
“The umpire couldn’t give us a thing that he said. He had just been chirping.”
Mitchell was pleased with his pitching and with how his team put pressure on West High, but the Little Hawks failed to mount much on offense.
“I don’t think we were as competitive with our bats as we would have liked to, but out pitchers gave us a chance to be in it at the end,” Mitchell said.
City High 100 001 1 – 2 4 0
West High 002 100 x – 3 5 2
W – Braden Houston L - Ry Threlkeld-Wiegand
2B – ICW: Alex Granner
HR – ICH: DJ Heck