HARLAN, Iowa — The way senior right-handers Brett Sears of Harlan Community and Ethan Bernard of Council Bluffs St. Albert were mowing through hitters Monday night, it appeared they were intent on being home for the second half of the NBA Finals.

Sears ended with the upper hand in the 78-minute pitchers’ duel. The Western Illinois recruit improved his career record to a sparkling 31-4 by a firing a 75-pitch, two-hitter while striking out nine in Class 3-A No. 6 Harlan’s 2-1 Hawkeye Ten Conference victory over the Falcons at Jim Goeser Field.

“It was just a great high school ballgame,’’ Harlan coach Steve Daeges said.

Harlan also opens the season as the top-rated large-school team in The World-Herald’s western Iowa baseball ratings, while Treynor leads the small schools.

Bernard nearly matched his counterpart, allowing three hits while striking out 10, walking two and hitting one in a 99-pitch gem.

“It’s pretty fun when it’s like that,’’ Sears said. “I know I have a good defense behind me and they pick up just about everything, so it makes my job a lot easier.’’

Harlan (10-1, 8-1) picked up an unearned insurance run in the bottom of the sixth, and it proved to be crucial. With one out, Sears worked a walk and moved to second on a wild pitch. After a flyout, Isaiah Ahrenholtz bounced one to second baseman Isaac Sherrill, who misplayed it, allowing Sears to make it 2-0.

With one out in the top of the seventh, St. Albert’s Ryan Genereux hit one hard at third baseman Joey Moser, and it was ruled an infield hit. Genereux took second on a passed ball and stole third.

With two outs, Bernard walked and stole second. Brenden Bartley’s throw to second sailed into center field for an error, allowing Genereux to score.

Sears then got Reed Miller, who had doubled sharply in the second inning, to fly out harmlessly to center to end it.

“The pitchers kind of dominated tonight,’’ said St. Albert coach Duncan Patterson, whose team dropped to 6-6 and 3-2. “That makes the game fun and it makes the defense better. That pace, that’s where we want to be at. We’ve just got to put the ball in play a little better.’’

Sears, a five-year starter who throws in the mid-80s, said it was important to keep his composure in the final inning.

“You’ve just got to relax,’’ he said. “I’ve got to keep doing what I’ve been doing the whole game. It’s been working all game, so I don’t need to press at that moment.’’ Both coaches were also impressed by the fast-working Bernard (2-1), who showed a live fastball, a sharp-breaking curveball and excellent command.

“In three years, that’s the best I’ve seen him throw,’’ Patterson said. “I think he’s going to improve on that, too. When he hits his spots he does a really good job of getting ahead of batters. He does know how to pitch.’’

Said Daeges: “They rolled through both lineups pretty good. Bernard impressed me with his ability to just pound the zone.’’

CB St. Al. (6-6, 3-2)......000 000 1—1 2 1

Harlan (10-1, 8-1)........100 001 X—2 3 1

W: Brett Sears (3-1). L: Ethan Bernard (2-1). 2B: SA, Reed Miller; H, Joey Moser, Luke Schaben.

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Western Iowa rankings

Class 4-A/3-A Rec.

1. Harlan 9-1

2. Sioux City East 10-2

3. Sgt. Bluff-Luton 10-5

4. CB Lewis Central 7-3

5. Sioux City Heelan 11-5

Class 2-A/1-A Rec.

1. Treynor 12-1

2. MVAOCOU 9-0

3. Tri-Center 8-2

4. Underwood 9-2

5. CB St. Albert 6-5

6. CAM 7-1

7. Carroll Kuemper 10-5

8. Coon Rapids-Bayard 10-3

9. Ar-We-Va 4-2

10. Logan-Magnolia 6-6

Note: Records through Sunday.

Kevin is The World-Herald's lead western Iowa sportswriter, covering about 60 high schools. He's also in charge of the sports department at The Daily Nonpareil in Council Bluffs.

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