DES MOINES – There’s often a fine line between winning and losing at state tournament time.
Tuesday night’s Class 3A baseball quarterfinal between seventh-seeded Algona and No. 2 seed Sergeant Bluff-Luton proved to be no exception.
In a pitcher’s duel throughout between ace right-handers Weston Shaw and Cody Selig, the ninth-ranked Bulldogs (27-8 overall) saw their memorable season come to an end in a tight 2-1 decision at Principal Park.
“We knew it would be tough to get any runs off (the Warrior) pitching,” first-year AHS head coach Mike Elsbecker said. “We were just hoping someone could get a piece of one and put us in position to score. When two good pitchers get together, it’s going to come down to what team makes a mistake first. Unfortunately, that was us (Tuesday).”
After Algona’s Tyler Frideres plated the tying run in the top of the sixth on a two-out wild pitch, Sergeant Bluff-Luton immediately answered back in the bottom half. Trevor Mohrhauser came home with the decisive run for the Warriors (25-11) on a throwing error to third by the Bulldog first baseman. Connor Schlotfeldt earlier singled to right and was replaced by the pinch runner Mohrhauser, who took second on a wild pitch. Selig then grounded into a routine 5-3 putout, which resulted in the costly Algona miscue.
“One bad throw was the difference, but that’s baseball,” said Frideres. “We just didn’t get the job done.”
Shaw (11-1) went the distance on the mound for the North Central Conference champion Bulldogs, yielding only five hits and one earned run. Shaw walked three and fanned 10. He finished his senior campaign with a 0.81 ERA and 110 strikeouts in 78 innings of work.
“I’ve been working on my curveball, and it’s definitely developed into a pretty nasty pitch,” Shaw said. “I felt comfortable the whole night. Give (SB-L) credit, though, because they’re a good ballclub.”
Sophomore Blake Elsbecker, Frideres and junior Nathan Benson collected the lone hits for Algona off the Morningside College signee Selig. The Bulldogs stranded six base runners, including four in the first two frames alone.
“We faced a lot of good pitchers during the course of our season, so I personally expected us to hit a little better (last evening),” said the catcher Frideres, who came in batting a team-high .500 on the year. “(Selig) is a good pitcher, throws hard, has good control of his off-speed (pitches) and got us off on our front foot a little bit.”
Selig (9-1) walked two with 13 strikeouts. Selig entered with a 0.35 ERA and 95 whiffs in 60 2/3 frames this summer.
Thomas Wisecup went 2-for-3 offensively with a RBI out of the No. 3 spot in the order for Sergeant Bluff-Luton, which extended its victory streak to seven straight games. Wisecup’s high chopper over third knocked in Connor Prescott to spoil Shaw’s shutout bid in the fifth.
South Dakota State recruit Bryce Hanson delivered a one-out triple to deep right in the fourth before pinch runner Colby Laughlin was eventually left at third. Hanson was also gunned down at the plate on a 2-4-2 double play from Frideres to Landon Rash to Frideres to end the second inning after a failed double steal attempt.
Frideres, Shaw, Justin Raymond, Austin Long, Jeremy Rurup and Cameron Lahndorf all closed out their Bulldog careers on the diamond. Last year, Algona finished 13-20, including 4-14 in the NCC.
“It was a great experience to get down (to Des Moines) with a great group of guys,” Frideres said. “Coach Elsbecker brought a lot of energy and support to our program this year. It’s been a fun ride.”
Elsbecker is the first high school baseball coach in Iowa history to direct three different programs – Sentral of Fenton, North Sentral Kossuth and Algona – to state. In 2008, Elsbecker guided NSK to a 1A title.
“I knew we had a pretty special team when we went 4-1 during a difficult stretch around the 4th of July,” said Elsbecker, the brother of Fort Dodge athletic and activities director Matt Elsbecker. “In any high school sport, your seniors have to be leaders. Every time our young men kind of had a little stumble, they got right back on the saddle. I’m extremely proud of them.”
Prior to this year, the Bulldogs previously qualified for state in 1999 and 2010. Sergeant Bluff-Luton’s other trips came in 2001 and 2003.
Sixth-seeded Dallas Center-Grimes (23-14) now awaits the Warriors in a 3A semifinal here Friday afternoon at 2 p.m. The Mustangs outlasted No. 3 seed and fifth-rated Fairfield Tuesday night by a 3-0 count in nine innings.