Photo by Norv Coblentz
Your Prep Sports
WILTON – Few pitchers can match the strong stretch of starts that Matt Paulsen put together over the past several weeks.
Paulsen was excellent again in Saturday’s District 8 title game but the West Branch sophomore finally met a hotter hurler.
Junior Colin McCrabb outdueled Paulsen to lift fifth-ranked Wilton to a 3-0 win over West Branch in a district final meeting of River Valley Conference South Division rivals in Wilton.
McCrabb ran his personal winning streak to four with his third consecutive one-hit shutout as Wilton (24-5) advanced to face fourth-ranked Dyersville Beckman in the Substate 4 title game on Tuesday.
Paulsen had his own four-game win streak come to an end as West Branch closed the season 12-15.
“I was happy with how I threw today but you have to give him credit too he is a great pitcher,” Paulsen said. “That’s all there is to it. He’s a great pitcher and he’s having a great season.”
The rematch of a season-opening doubleheader swept by Wilton was billed as pitchers’ duel from the beginning.
Paulsen (4-3, 1.20 ERA) entered Saturday’s showdown having allowed just four earned runs over his previous 23 1/3 innings.
McCrabb had been even better of late, striking out 31 and giving up just two runs on four hits in three previous complete game wins.
The hard throwing Wilton right-hander got the best of the matchup on Saturday, allowing just a one-out single by Tanner Lukavsky in the fourth inning to improve to 6-1 on the season while lowering his ERA to .65.
“McCrabb is a great pitcher and he throws hard,” West Branch coach Rick Stout said. “We knew coming in what he had and I thought our guys did a good job putting the ball in play we just didn’t square a lot of balls up and give McCrabb a lot of credit he threw great.”
Paulsen was up to the task for most of the game.
The sophomore worked around a leadoff walk and a Bear throwing error in the second when he fielded a comebacker and caught Brian Stillman off third base for the first out.
Paulsen later got Nolan Leaton to bounce back to the mound to end the inning stranding Chantz Stevens at third.
“I thought he kept them off balance all night,” Stout said of Paulsen. “His curveball is so effective and then he would slip that fastball in there when they weren’t ready for it. He pitched a great game.”
West Branch had a runner on second with one out in the the third and fourth innings but couldn’t scratch out a run.
Lukavsky singled and stole second with one away in the fourth but McCrabb got Trey Eagle to fly to center and caught Pete Espensen looking to end the inning.
“What we talked about was hanging in there, hanging tight as long as we could and putting the pressure on them,” Stout said. “Every inning we were even with them there was more pressure on them and I thought we did a great job. We had a couple opportunities with guys in scoring position early in the game if we could have got a single here or there it could have changed the game.”
Wilton finally broke through in the fifth.
Cory Anderson led off the inning with a double down the third base line and McCrabb was hit by a pitch.
Third place hitter Jared Townsend line a pitch just inside the left field line for a two-run double.
“With two on and no outs I had to go at him and I left one hanging,” Paulsen said. “He punched one the other way and he’s just a heck of a hitter.”
That was enough for McCrabb who retired 10 of the final 11 batters he faced.
The only batter to reach, Eagle on an error with one away in the seventh, was erased on a game-ending 4-6-3 double play.
West Branch closed the season winning five of its final seven games with the losses to Class 1A No. 5 Alburnett and 2A fifth-ranked Wilton.
“I’m just really proud of our guys and where we have come the last few weeks,” Stout said. “We won five of our last seven, and those two losses are to the fifth ranked team in 1A and 2A. To come down to their place and go 0-0 into the bottom of the fifth I’m just really proud of the effort and work these guys put in this season.”
West Branch 000 000 0 – 0 1 4
Wilton 000 030 x – 3 4 3
W – Colin McCrabb L – Matt Paulsen
2B – WIL: Cory Anderson, Jared Townsend