Lynx, ’Cats ready for one more district battle

WCHS designated hitter Sean Carver tags up from second on a fly ball and sprints towards third base. The Lynx will face Humboldt in a Class 3A District 3 semifinal today at 5 p.m. in Slater. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

WEBSTER CITY — Would this be considered Round 3 or Round 4? Truth be told, it’s both.

North Central Conference rivals Webster City and Humboldt will meet on the baseball diamond for the third time this season and for the fourth time in the past four postseasons this evening. The two will kick off a Class 3A District 3 doubleheader from Slater with a semifinal showdown at 5 p.m. Tenth-ranked Ballard (23-8) and Perry (0-23) will meet in the second semifinal at 7 p.m.

The winners will advance to Monday’s district final back in Slater at 7 p.m.

It’s to the point now where WCHS (19-9) and Humboldt (21-11) simply expect to cross paths in the second season. They split their two regular season meetings, but the Wildcats have won two of the three most recent district clashes, including a 5-3 upset win over the Lynx a season ago.

And, yes, the Lynx players remember the heartbreak from 12 months ago.

WCHS freshman catcher Devon Stoakes (right) talks to sophomore pitcher Tyler Olson (3) just before Olson stepped to the plate to bat against Iowa Falls-Alden on Monday. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

“We remember who knocked us off last year and we remember how much that stung,” WCHS senior Dylan Steen said. “We know this is a huge game and we’ve got to be dialed in from the first pitch.”

It’s fitting they’re the Nos. 4 (WCHS) and 5 (Humboldt) seeds in Substate 2. In truth, they’re about as even as two teams can get.

Humboldt went on the road and beat WCHS, 6-1, on June 26. But with the conference lead on the line, the Lynx got the better of the second confrontation, 11-4, on July 10 and went on to claim their second NCC championship in three years.

Neither game was particularly close, and yet tonight’s rubber match is a pick ’em game.

“It’s always a dog fight when we meet,” WCHS head coach Adison Kehoe said. “Humboldt is an extremely good team, so it should be a good game for sure.”

Neither team is tipping its hand where its pitching staff is concerned. Tyler Olson (10-1, 0.53 ERA) got the start against Humboldt in both regular season meetings and allowed just one earned run in 121⁄3 innings of work. Jacob Thurm was the pitcher of record for Humboldt in both as well, although he was touched for 16 hits and seven earned runs in 102⁄3 innings.

Will they head back to the bump for a third time? Will both coaches switch it up?

As of Wednesday, Kehoe still wasn’t sure if Olson or Steen would get the nod. An all-state pitcher a season ago, Steen (6-3, 1.75 ERA) has yet to face the Wildcats this season.

Whether it’s Olson or Steen, Kehoe knows his pitcher will have to throw strikes. Humboldt always shows patience and won’t swing at balls outside the zone.

“They won’t start being aggressive until they get one strike on them because their goal is to get our pitch count up,” Kehoe said. “Getting that first-pitch strike could be the difference.”

Humboldt could trot out Thurm again, or it could go with Michael Brightly (4-1, 2.86 ERA), who has stayed off the WCHS radar this season. A third option would be Cade Witzke (3-0, 5.21 ERA), who the Lynx roughed up a bit in relief work earlier this month.

WCHS owned the top pitching staff in the NCC during the regular season with a 2.33 ERA. The group piled up 224 strikeouts, led by Olson’s 91.

But Humboldt has the league’s top offense with a .326 team batting average. Joey Busse, the 2A 145-pound state wrestling champion in February, leads his club at .409.

WCHS owned the No. 2 offense in the league and hit at a .306 clip. Steen enters the postseason hitting .474 and Olson stands at .379.

Boone (17-12) will face Algona (10-16) and eighth-ranked Gilbert (24-6) will take on Greene County (9-22) in the 3A District 4 semifinals this evening.

The District 3 and 4 champions will meet in the Substate 2 final next Wednesday.