The Linn-Mar baseball team has taken a liking to a cinematic series that resembles its postseason.
The Rocky Balboa movies have been what the Lions are watching on the road to Clinton and to Pleasant Valley. Like Rocky, the Lions have been underdogs this postseason, coming in with a .500 record and the fifth seed in their substate bracket.
And like the prized boxer, Linn-Mar has thrived on being the underdog.
Three days after upsetting second-seeded Clinton, Linn-Mar clubbed 15 hits and had a pair of big innings Monday to prevail 15-10 over Pleasant Valley in a Class 4A substate semifinal at Spartan Field.
“It just inspires you,” pitcher Josh Gassmann said. “Through all doubts, he found a way to persevere and I think that sticks to us.”
The 15 runs mark their highest scoring output of the season heading into the substate final against fellow Mississippi Valley Conference foe, third-ranked Iowa City High, on Wednesday.
In two postseason games, the Lions (20-18) have averaged 11 runs per game, six more than their regular season average of 5.6.
“We’ve shown flashes throughout the year,” head coach Chad Lechner said. “We’ve put some good games together against some quality pitching.”
Gassmann, who pitched four innings of relief and went 2-for-4 at the dish, delivered the knockout punch.
With the bases loaded in the top of the seventh, he drove a high fastball to right-center for a double that cleared the bases and put the finishing touches against Pleasant Valley, a team Linn-Mar split with in early June.
“Usually I struggle with that pitch,” Gassmann said. “Got it up there and luckily it dropped.”
Linn-Mar’s sudden offensive outburst was shown in the first three innings against Spartans right-hander Kyle Stoddard.
Ten runs on nine hits and multiple throwing miscues and errors by PV propelled the Lions to a nine-run lead. Baserunning and getting on base also provided opportunities to score as all starters got into scoring position at least once.
“We knew we were going to need to score a bunch to beat them,” Lechner said.
Reese Phillps drove in three runs on three hits that led the Lions to have five batters record two or more hits.
Bill Sandry sensed some tightness from the Spartans (21-19) early on that dug them a deep hole down 10-1.
“I think our kids were nervous, they hadn’t been in that position before,” PV’s head coach said. “We were doing things we normally don’t do as a team. I was surprised by that.”
Come the bottom half of the third, the Spartans made a game of it.
On the first pitch he saw, Evan Crawford launched a no-doubter grand slam to left field for his third home run of the season that capped a 5-run inning to cut their deficit down to four.
“Everybody took a deep breath” Sandry said. “We started to play good baseball at that point.”
Down 12-9 in the sixth, PV loaded the bases for the third time and eighth grader Caden Kipper came to the plate.
On a 2-2 count, Gassmann threw an offspeed pitch in the dirt that Kipper chased to end the threat. Pleasant Valley also left the bases loaded in the third after batting around the order.
“We had some momentum and we couldn’t get the key hit right when we needed it,” Sandry said.
The Spartans return their top two pitchers as well as all but three starters to a team that placed in the middle of the Mississippi Athletic Conference.
“Our struggles have been throwing strikes,” said Max Slavens, who went 4-for-5 with two doubles. “We got to work on that and I think the rest will come after that.”