MARION — When you start an eighth grader and two freshmen, it’s guaranteed life will get interesting from time to time. As it did Monday night for Cedar Rapids Washington.
The Warriors blew a four-run lead in the bottom of the seventh inning thanks to some leaky defense, but it was Johnny Dobbs, one of those precocious frosh, who bailed them out with a two-run home run for an 8-6, eight-inning win over Mount Vernon in the first round of the Bob Vrbicek Metro Tournament.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” said Washington coach Tony Lombardi. “We’re young, but I feel like we’re playing baseball. We look like a baseball team, and I’m really, really proud of them for that.”
Washington doesn’t know who it will play in Tuesday’s 7 p.m. semifinals at Marion. Cedar Rapids Kennedy and Marion had their first-round game suspended by lightning in the top of the seventh inning.
Jared Staton hit a leadoff home run just before the suspension to bring Kennedy into a 2-2 tie. Marion had scored a run on a two-out passed ball in the bottom of the sixth to take a 2-1 lead.
Dobbs took the first pitch of his extra-inning at-bat for a strike, a call he didn’t care for. Whether that got him mad or what, he smoked the next pitch over the short part of the left-field fence for the winner.
“No, I didn’t think it was a strike,” Dobbs said. “I got settled back in and focused.”
Reliever Noah Burdt pitched around an error in the bottom of the inning. A.J. Puk helped Wash to a 5-1 lead, hitting a solo home run and throwing five innings of two-hit ball, striking out 14.
The 6-foot-7 left-hander is a probable high-round draft pick in the MLB draft in a couple of weeks.
“I felt good,” said Puk, who threw 72 pitches, punching out eight MV hitters in a row at one point. “I was kind of cruising at the beginning, not really letting too many go. Just get through a couple of innings, see how it goes. If I needed to pick it up, I’d do it.”
If Puk doesn’t turn pro, he’ll leave Washington in late June to take summer classes at the University of Florida. He’ll enjoy his team with his young teammates until then.
“It’s fun playing with these guys,” he said. “A young team, an inexperienced team since we have some older guys. Great first game for us. We were cruising, then had to battle the last couple innings.”
“That’s how we are,” said Rocky Lombardi, the eighth-grader who had two singles, a walk, an RBI and two runs. “We’re positive and supportive of each other.