Coon Rapids-Bayard’s Brandon Riley (4) climbs the center field fence while trying to catch a homerun by Akron-Westfield’s Cal Eskra during Tuesday’s Class 1A substate played in Denison. The Crusaders lost 13-4, ending their season.
Coon Rapids-Bayard’s Brandon Riley (4) climbs the center field fence while trying to catch a homerun by Akron-Westfield’s Cal Eskra during Tuesday’s Class 1A substate played in Denison. The Crusaders lost 13-4, ending their season.

July 19, 2017

Denison

Akron-Westfield senior Cal Eskra stepped up to the plate Tuesday night at the bottom of the third with an opportunity lead the Westerners into the history books. Eskra warmed up with a couple of slow swings, moving his shoulders to the beat of supporting banter from the mostly pro-Westerner crowd.

“Take your time, Cal!”

“Come on Cal, you got him!”

With the bases loaded, Eskra connected with a high pitch from Coon Rapids-Bayard’s (CR-B) Michael Dentlinger, who had just entered the game, sending the ball out of the park and recording a game-changing grand slam for the Westerners.

“I just put the bat on the ball and went with the pitch,” Eskra said. “I knew it was gone as soon as the ball connected.”

After a one-sided 13-4 victory over the heavy hitting Coon Rapids-Bayard Crusaders, Akron-Westfield will compete in the state tournament for the first time in the school’s history. According to Eskra, it was a feat that the Westerners had been looking to accomplish for the last five years. His grand slam added four runs to a seven-run inning that would put the Crusaders in a hole that they could not crawl out of. It was also Eskra’s second home run for the season.

“I was shocked, but I knew I could do it,” Eskra said. “We’ve been a great hitting team all year. I’m glad we finally got past (our goal).”

Akron-Westfield came into the sub state game ranked No. 4 in Class 1A with a record of 30-2. Last season, the Westerners lost to eventual state champion St. Mary’s-Remsen in the district final. Since the loss, Akron-Westfield racked up win after win, including a 32-0 win over Clay Central-Everly on June 5. Their offense was led by senior hitter Aaron Allard, who had a batting average of .474 this season with 46 hits, 10 doubles, four triples and a home run. He had batted in 33 runs, while scoring 44 of his own, going to Tuesdays match. Allard recorded two hits against the Crusaders with no RBIs. Akron-Westfield head coach Gordy Johnson said that the strength of the Westerner line-up was enough to carry his team to victory.

“It’s always somebody different hitting the ball well for us,” Johnson said. “The team is a terrific group of kids up-and-down the lineup.”

Eskra’s grand slam was followed by a home run from junior AJ Nemesio. Nemesio recorded two home runs and four RBI’s for the night. The Crusaders ended the season with a 22-14 overall mark. Senior Dylan Irizarry started at pitch for the Westerners, recording an ERA of 5.73. Irizarry came into the game bearing a 5-1 record with a ERA of 0.99 for the season.

“All winter long the players were in the gym throwing,” Johnson said. “I tried to give them Sunday off, but no way.

They were in the cages. They just work extremely hard.”

Sophomore Nick Jacobs replaced Irizarry at the top of the fourth. He closed the game with an ERA of 2.10.

“We played well and we hit the ball well,” Jacobs said. “AJ had 2 home runs, and that was big for us. It was a good game to win.”

Tuesday night was CR-B’s third straight sub-state game. Last year the Crusaders fell to Tri-Center in substate, and the year before they advanced into the state tournament. They started the year 3-9, but they eventually turned their season around before struggling to a fourth place finish in their conference after Ar-We-Va, Exira-EH-K and CAM.

“We won 19 of our final 24 games, which included many quality opponents,” said CR-B head coach John Waddle. “You certainly have to give our six seniors a lot of credit for never giving up and for leading us to the substate game.”

The Crusaders fell behind 3-0 before the top of the third inning. They were able to retaliate in the inning with two runs off of two hits. Seniors Colton Lenz and Sam Obert recorded RBI’s for the innings. The Westerners came back with a vengeance at the bottom of the third, recording 7 runs to bring the score to 10-2.

“It was certainly a frustrating inning for us as we thought both of those home run balls could have been caught in a bigger ballpark,” Waddle said. “We also felt pretty good about fighting back into the game at that point.  However, you have to give them credit for the big inning as they collected five of their 11 hits during that time.  They’re a very solid offensive team and they just kept the pressure on us throughout the entire game.”

The Crusaders attempted to steal some momentum with a double from Michael Dentlinger and a RBI single by Peyton Clipperton at the top of the fourth, but the Westerners answered back with a score of their own. The teams traded scores in the fifth as well with Isaac McAlister scoring the final CR-B run of the game in the inning. Akron-Westfield finished the game with 13 scores off 11 hits. CR-B was able to scrape four runs off six hits.

“You never like to see your season come to an end, but after the slow start, we ended up playing some great baseball down the stretch,” Waddle said. “We will certainly miss (the seniors) next year.”

The state tournament starts on Friday.