Familiar foe awaits Lynx in 3A district opener

New pitch-count rules add new wrinkles to the postseason mix

WCHS catcher Jordan Tanner and pitcher Max Hackbarth confer with head coach Adison Kehoe during Monday’s game against Algona. Hackbarth will get the start tonight. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

WEBSTER CITY — The chess match begins this evening.

Fresh off winning the North Central Conference championship earlier this week, the Webster City baseball team will take a four-game winning streak into its Class 3A District 3 semifinal match-up against longtime rival Humboldt. They will play in Gilbert at 5 p.m.

The winner will advance to Monday’s district final against the winner of the 7 p.m. semifinal between seventh-ranked Gilbert and Algona.

Adison Kehoe, the Lynx rookie head coach, has had the Midas touch all season, but his job will get infinitely trickier in the second season.

The biggest question: What will he do with his pitching staff?

WCHS left fielder Riley Mishler positions himself to catch a line drive during last week’s win over St. Edmond. He leads the Lynx at the plate with a .435 batting average and four home runs. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

With the new pitch-count rules in effect, they eliminate the possibility of teams riding one pitcher throughout the postseason. Strategies must be devised and even though the urge to look towards the next game may be strong, it has to be avoided.

“You can’t look ahead, you just can’t,” Kehoe said. “I’d like to, but in a do or die situation like this, you just have to take it game by game.”

That’s precisely why WCHS (18-4) will hand the ball to its ace, junior southpaw Max Hackbarth, tonight even though the Lynx roughed up Humboldt (18-11) twice during the regular season, 10-1 and 12-0. Hackbarth brings a 6-0 record and 0.45 ERA — third-best among 3A pitchers with 20 or more innings under their belts — into the postseason. He leads the class in strikeouts with 89.

The next question: How long will Kehoe let Hackbarth go? If he throws more than 65 pitches, he would be unavailable to pitch in a potential district final on Monday. Then again, if Kehoe pulls Hackbarth in an attempt to save him and the Lynx lose, that’s the definition of a backfire.

And now you understand the dilemma.

“If it’s nitty-gritty, you’re going to roll with your (No.) 1 (pitcher), but if it’s a three-run lead, is that big enough? Is a four- or five-run lead big enough?” Kehoe questioned. “So it is a little bit of a chess game. But, quite honestly, my mindset is every game is now a must-win thing. So if I’ve got to run 107 pitches with Max, then that’s what I’m going to do.”

WCHS has the luxury of a deep and talented pitching staff. Bryan Ferrell, Cameron Moen and Dylan Steen are all more than capable starters, and Caleb Olson has proven to be a gem out of the bullpen.

“To go and make a postseason run, you can no longer rely on one or even two guys,” Kehoe said. “You have to be four or five guys deep, and luckily we have that.”

Kehoe expects Humboldt to throw its ace, senior right-hander Devon Clark (4-2, 2.41 ERA). He took the loss when WCHS topped the Wildcats 10-1 on June 14. But don’t expect the Lynx to rely on their past successes. Kehoe says that’s a good way to get beat.

“I would be shocked if we did not see Clark. He’s thrown the most innings and he’s a senior,” Kehoe said. “It’s very hard to play these same teams three times because they know everything we do and we know everything they do. Starting (tonight), it’s Game 1 of a new season. It’s point-blank who wants it more, who wants to play Monday and who wants to be done and start getting ready for football.”

WCHS is currently riding a tidal wave of confidence at the plate. Over the last four games, the Lynx have outscored their opponents 40-7, and they have six players hitting .328 or better — Riley Mishler (.435), Steen (.403), Ferrell (.395), Romel Martinez (.379), Corey Wagner (.361) and Ty Schnathorst (.328).

Mishler has cranked four home runs and Martinez is the team’s top runs producer with 23 RBI.

Clark also leads Humboldt offensively with a .433 average.