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Your Prep Sports
DES MOINES – As the lone player on the West High roster that was part of the Trojans’ previous state tournament trip Jason Strunk knew he would be looked to as a leader in Wednesday’s Class 4A state tournament opener.
The senior centerfielder never imagined he would end up leading West High through a such similar experience to the last wacky West High appearance at Principal Park in Des Moines.
For the second time in three years West High waited through a lengthy rain delay to win a 4A quarterfinal that began after 10 p.m. and wrapped up well after midnight.
In 2017 the Trojans beat Cedar Rapids Washington 12-2 in just the second game in state tournament history to finish after midnight.
This time around second-ranked West High (34-7) finished off Pleasant Valley 6-3 in a two hour and 25 minute game that ended at 12:34 a.m.
“I need to get some sleep before these games,” Strunk said with a laugh. “It was really similar to a few years ago and so I knew I had to be a leader for these guys and help get us through it.”
Strunk was a member of both marathon quarterfinal wins for the Trojans.
On Wednesday (and early Thursday) Strunk came up big driving in three runs as West High returned to the state semifinals for the fifth time in the past five seasons.
Marcus Morgan struck out 11 in 5 2/3 innings to earn the win as West High advanced to the 4A semifinals where it will face defending champion Urbandale (29-14) at 4:30 p.m.
“I’m the only guy returning on this roster that has been here and just letting everyone know to take it in and when we get to the game stay loose,” Strunk said. “It’s just a baseball game, it’s just on a bigger field so just play your game and if we do our thing we will come out victorious.”
West High snapped a 1-1 tie with a two-run third inning and added single runs in each of its final three at bats to secure the win.
Strunk drove in the final run for West High with an RBI bloop double down the right field line that gave the Trojans a 6-3 lead.
Senior Ryan Cooper worked 1 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of Morgan to earn the save as West High won its first consecutive state tournament opener.
“Marcus is a warrior and then Jason came up big, that was big to get that extra run there at the end,” West High coach Charlie Stumpff said. “It was a jam shot and he got it done. We did enough and we are happy to move on.”
Each team plated runs in the first inning but West High seized the momentum in the third.
Pleasant Valley (25-12) loaded the bases with no out in the top of the inning on consecutive singles by number nine hitter Kyle McDermott and Jack Young and a four-pitch walk to Eric Clifton.
Morgan responded by striking out Jose Lara on three pitches for the first out.
The Trojans’ sophomore ace then fanned cleanup hitter Peyton Lindmark swinging for the second out.
“They loaded the bases and I was focusing on getting outs, striking outs guys and get to one out or two outs and then we have a chance,” Morgan said. “I got the first two strikeouts and then I just had to get the third one.”
Morgan fell behind Max Slaves 3-0 but got three consecutive called strikes to sit down Slavens and end the inning.
“Marcus was really big,” Stumpff said. “Striking out the side when they had bases loaded with no outs was a key part of the game. They were coming up with three, four five and it wasn’t going well.”
West High wouldn’t miss on its opportunity in the bottom of the inning.
Nick Biancuzzo walked and Morgan followed with a single to left field to put runners on the corners with no out.
Strunk plated a run with an RBI fielders choice ground out, moved to third on back-to-back wild pitches and scored o a Cooper RBI ground out to put West High up 3-1.
“It really started in the second when Marcus came back after giving up a run in the first and struck out three guys,” Strunk said. “With him being able to get out of it in the third with another zero that fed our offense and we started rolling on all cylinders and playing state baseball.”
That was enough for Morgan who allowed a couple of unearned runs in the fifth but left the tying run stranded at third when he got Slaves to bounce out to second to end the inning.
“I was just feeling good today,” Morgan said. “I felt comfortable with all my pitches.”
Pleasant Valley had a final chance in the sixth when it loaded the bases with two out but Cooper got Clifton to line out to first to end the inning.
Strunk had two of the five West High hits while Biancuzzo had a hit and scored twice and drove in a run.
Cooper and Chase Calderwood added RBI for West High.
“We are playing well right now and we want to keep it going,” Morgan said. “Just being able to keep playing with these is important.”
Pleasant Valley 100 020 x – 3 6 0
West High 102 111 x – 6 5 2
W – Marcus Morgan L – Jack Young SV – Ryan Cooper
2B – ICW: Jason Strunk. PV: Jose Lara
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