THE JOURNEY STARTS NOW: Lynx open Class 3A postseason against Perry at home

Talent, calming influence make Martinez a natural leader for Webster City

WCHS shortstop Romel Martinez makes a throw on the run after charging the ball against Clear Lake earlier this season. He leads the Lynx in most offensive categories. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

WEBSTER CITY — Like a lot of baseball players, Romel Martinez has got a routine when he steps into the batter’s box.

He digs in, gives the pitcher a glance, leans back and watches the first pitch sail past, almost as if he’s giving the opposing pitcher a head start.

But on pitch No. 2? If it’s in his zone, more times than not he’s going to drill it.

Martinez, a senior and smooth glove at shortstop, is the catalyst for a Webster City team that will take its first step towards what it hopes will be a trip to the state tournament tonight against Perry at Lynx Field. The Class 3A District 4 semifinal will start at approximately 7 p.m., following the first semifinal between Clear Lake (20-12) and Humboldt (17-14) that will get underway at 5 p.m.

When Martinez hits, the Lynx hit. When Martinez is upbeat, the energy in the dugout is just different.

“More times than not in that first inning, and he doesn’t necessarily have to get on base, but if he puts a good swing on something you can see a sense of ease from the rest of the boys,” WCHS head coach Adison Kehoe said. “He’s a very calming presence and he leads by quiet example. You look at him and say that’s a college player.”

Martinez, who will play collegiately at Iowa Central Community College, brings a team-best .449 batting average into tonight’s tussle with Perry (9-11). He also leads WCHS (16-5) in hits (31), runs scored (24), doubles (9) and triples (2).

He makes it all go offensively. He just does.

“He’s a kid that wants the ball hit to him and he wants to be in the batter’s box,” Kehoe said. “He always rises to define the moment.”

WCHS, which has won two straight games, possesses five other players hitting .300 or better. Dylan Steen (.388) leads the squad with 24 RBIs, Caleb Olson (.318) has driven in 15 runs, Jordan Tanner (.317) has 16, Noah McKinney (.300) has swiped 16 bases, and Tyler Olson (.300) has turned into a pivotal bat in the lower part of the order.

The Lynx will face a Perry pitching staff prone to surrendering runs. The Blue Jays are likely to trot either Austin Carpenter or Keghan West out to the bump; Carpenter is 4-5 with a 6.69 ERA, while West sits at 2-4 with a 4.96 ERA.

But Kehoe knows Perry won’t be a pushover. Despite a losing record, the Blue Jays have several quality wins over the likes of Ballard and Gilbert.

“They’re a scrappy bunch,” Kehoe said of the Blue Jays. “If you let them linger around, you’re going to find yourself in a situation you may not want to be in. So our mindset going in is if we win more innings than we lose, we should be in a position to be successful at the end.”

Perry has struggled offensively throughout the season. It ranks second to last in 3A in hits and is near the bottom in runs scored.

That may not bode well against a WCHS pitching staff that is among the best in the state. The Lynx rank No. 1 in 3A in ERA (1.56), strikeouts per game (10.5), earned runs allowed (31), total runs allowed (44) and opponents’ batting average (.132).

Kehoe will send one of his two aces — Max Hackbarth or Dylan Steen — to the mound. Steen is 7-0 with a 1.36 ERA, while Hackbarth is 4-2 with a 1.39 ERA. The third thoroughbred, senior Cameron Moen (3-1, 1.08 ERA) will be unavailable after he threw a complete game two-hitter in a 1-0 win over Boone on Tuesday.

Kehoe may not decide who will get the nod until just minutes before his team takes the field.

“Dylan and Max, they’re both going to prepare like they’re starting,” Kehoe said. “All three of those guys, they ooze confidence.”

Perry is led offensively by Gavin Boyer (.377 average), Kaleb Olejniczak (.350) and Aaron Lockwood (.345). They’ve combined to drive in 38 of their team’s 89 runs.

Tonight’s semifinal winners will advance to Monday’s district final back at Lynx Field. WCHS doesn’t have a great track record against its North Central Conference counterparts this season — the Lynx split with Clear Lake and dropped both regular season meetings to Humboldt — but Kehoe thinks his bunch has reclaimed the confidence that may have gone missing during stretches of the campaign.

“The last two games, we’re clicking on multiple cylinders,” he said.