DES MOINES — It’s common for a pitcher who loses a no-hitter late to still have a multiple-run cushion with which to work.
Sioux City Heelan junior Tyler Cropley did not have that luxury on Tuesday.
After Aaron Schultz’s sharp single broke up Cropley’s no-no to lead off the seventh, Heelan was nursing a 1-0 lead with Nos. 3 and 4 batters Cody Marine and Chance Wetjen coming up.
Cropley struck out Marine swinging, Jake Nelson threw out Schultz trying to steal, and then Cropley fanned Wetjen looking as the top-rated Crusaders held off unrated Williamsburg 1-0 in a 73-minute Class 3-A state baseball quarterfinal at Principal Park.
“He’s such a competitor, such a hard-nosed kid that he doesn’t unravel very easily,” Heelan coach Andy Osborne said. “In a tight game like that, he’s so used to being in control of the game, whether it’s on the mound or behind the dish, that he really doesn’t get rattled very easily. He was dominant today.”
In front of a two-game session crowd of 1,396, top-seeded Heelan improved to 35-4 and extended its state-leading winning streak to 16 games. Seeking their third title, the Crusaders will play in their 11th state semifinal at noon Friday against fifth-seeded Davenport Assumption (25-15).
A first-team all-state catcher as a sophomore, Cropley (7-0) said he had a five-pitch arsenal working: a four-seam and two-seam curveball and changeup, along with a cutting fastball. He didn’t hesitate when asked which pitch was the key.
“The changeup for sure,” he said. “It was down. I wasn’t keeping it high. And they were just off-balance.” He said his curveball is “breaking nice right now. As long as it keeps doing that, it should be fine.”
Cropley struck out nine and walked none. He faced just one batter over the minimum. With two outs in the fifth, he mishandled Payton Kauzlarich’s comebacker for an error but then struck out Alex Phillips looking to end it.
Schultz then ripped a 0-1 pitch over second base for a clean hit to lead off the seventh. After Cropley struck out Marine, Nelson threw out Schultz and then Cropley added the final strikeout.
Cropley said he wasn’t concerned with losing the no-hitter.
“I’d rather have the win than the no-hitter, for sure,” Cropley said.
Osborne calls the Heelan pitches and felt like an offensive coordinator in football when every play is working.
“That’s a dream come true, when a kid’s throwing just about anything he wants, where he wants, at whatever pace he wants,” Osborne said. “We talked about the importance of establishing strike one, and he did that all day.”
Catcher Nick Spratt set the tone for eighth-seeded Williamsburg’s (20-19) defense by throwing out the speedy Connor Niles (36 steals) and Brady Mayo (26) attempting to steal second for the game’s first two outs. He also threw out Jake DeJong at second in the third frame.
“We knew they were going to run,” Williamsburg coach Ben Grier said. “We kind of prepared for it, but you can’t prepare to keep all their guys from stealing.”
Heelan scored the game’s lone run in the second. Tyler Stolen singled with two down and scored on Daulton Sauce’s double to right-center. Grier said he had center fielder Myles Gritsch shaded to left-center on Sauce.
“We had a bit of a pull-shift on Daulton, or else we may still be playing,” he said.
A sophomore, Sauce delivered a clutch two-run, extra-inning triple in the substate game against Le Mars. He finished 2 for 3 on Tuesday. Sauce was Heelan’s starting shortstop before breaking his hand and missing 14 games.
“He’s had quality at-bats all the way through the playoffs,” Osborne said.
Semifinal foe Assumption is an eye-popping 27-4 (.871) in state-tournament play, including eight titles. It can tie Kee for the state lead with two more victories.
“We’re going to have to be at the top of our game, and we’re definitely going to have to hit better,” Osborne said.
Sioux City Heelan (35-4)......................010 000 0—1 4 1
Williamsburg (20-19)............................000 000 0—0 1 0
W: Tyler Cropley, 7-0. L: Chance Wetjen, 3-7. 2B: SCH, Daulton Sauce.