DES MOINES — Harlan and Davenport Assumption have been the top two teams in the Class 3A state baseball rankings all summer.
So on the final night of the season, it is appropriate they’ll duke it out for a championship.
After falling behind early against Dubuque Wahlert, second-ranked Assumption rallied in the middle innings and rode the arm of left-hander Ben Beutel to a 6-1 semifinal victory Friday afternoon at Principal Park.
Assumption (40-5) is eyeing a record 10th summer baseball crown. Harlan (36-2) is seeking a state repeat. They’ll meet at 5 p.m. Saturday.
“We’ve wanted to face them all year,” Assumption senior Justus Burke said. “We’re just excited to get that chance and get after them.”
Unlike the previous four tournament opponents the Knights run-ruled and outscored 46-4, coach Billy Argo’s team had to overcome a deficit to earn its spot into the final and the program’s 33rd state tournament win, an all-time best.
Wahlert (27-16) scratched across an unearned run in the first inning and still led after 2 1/2 innings with ace Austin Savary on the mound.
“It was good for our team to have a little bit of pressure on us before we pop into the finals tomorrow,” senior Nolan Melchert said.
The game shifted in the bottom half of the third.
Luke Fennelly, Trenton Wallace and Melchert pieced together three straight two-out hits. Melchert found the gap in right center to score Fennelly and even the game. It was the first earned run Savary had allowed in nearly 17 innings.
“I think that inning won the game for us,” Wallace said. “It was a huge momentum shift. We kind of got smacked in the face a little bit early, but after we got those three straight hits, Wahlert went quiet a little bit.
“Once a team goes quiet on a team like us, we’re able to put teams away pretty easily.”
The Knights tallied two runs in the fourth and busted it open with a three-run fifth.
Burke ripped a one-out triple off the wall in left field for the go-ahead run.
“I had no idea it was going to go that far,” Burke said. “I got out on my front foot and was lazy with the swing, but I was lucky enough to barrel it up and the ball just kept going.”
Assumption sent nine more hitters to the plate in the fifth.
Wallace scored on an errant throw home on a fielder’s choice, and Burke added a two-run single against reliever Alex Timp. It was Burke’s fifth hit in two state tournament games.
It was more than enough for Beutel.
The Bowling Green signee tossed a two-hitter with 14 strikeouts and just one walk. Beutel yielded only one baserunner in the final five innings.
“Ben was lights-out,” Melchert said.
The southpaw’s breaking ball and cutter, in particular, had Wahlert buckled. The Golden Eagles had only two balls reach the outfield after the opening frame and struck out five times looking.
“The fastball was there, but the curveball and cutter really did its job today,” Beutel said. “I was just in a groove.”
Beutel, in his first season with Assumption after transferring from Davenport North, improved to 8-0 and lowered his season ERA to 0.64 in 54 2/3 innings.
“His breaking stuff was crisp,” Argo said. “He had a lot of down action and good command of it. I thought from the second inning on, he had location of his fastball and that set up everything else.”
It marked the fourth time this season Beutel has fanned at least 10 in an outing.
“It was pretty special,” he said, “but it is not going to mean anything if we don’t get the championship tomorrow.”
The Knights are tied with Kee High for the most summer baseball titles at nine. Assumption can forge ahead with a win over Harlan, whose lone losses are to Sioux City North and Council Bluffs St. Albert.
The Cyclones started the season No. 1 but dropped below the Knights in late June. Harlan regained the top spot in the final rankings.
“It is a dream come true for this whole team, something we’ve been working towards since the end of last season when we came up short,” Melchert said. "It should be a lot of fun."
Wallace (10-0) will get the start on the mound. The Iowa signee pitched in a state tournament game as a freshman, lost a pair of 1-0 decisions to Central DeWitt’s TJ Sikkema in district finals the past two summers and was the winning pitcher in Tuesday’s quarterfinal rout over Bondurant-Farrar.
This will be his first opportunity to pitch in a state final.
“Ever since I’ve been a little kid, I’ve dreamed of playing in this park and in that situation,” Wallace said. “This is like Game 7 of the World Series and the ninth inning. It is a great feeling to get the ball, and I’ll be ready.”
Davenport Assumption 6, Dubuque Wahlert 1
Austin Savary, Alex Timp (5), Owen Funke (6) and Jimmy McDermott. Ben Beutel and Tavien Gillette. WP — Beutel (8-0). LP — Savary (12-3). Two or more hits — Assumption, Trenton Wallace, Nolan Melchert, Justus Burke. 3B — Assumption, Burke. RBI — Assumption, Burke 3, Beutel, Melchert.
Records: Dubuque Wahlert 27-16 (final); Assumption 40-5