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Johnston takes advantage of Dowling miscues to claim Iowa Class 4A baseball state crown

The Dragons cruised to an 11-1 win.

By John Bohnenkamp 

IOWA CITY — The meltdown seemingly had no end. 

Johnston’s 11-1 win over West Des Moines Dowling in Friday’s Class 4A state baseball championship was built on the slow disintegration of its opponent, and the Dragons were more than happy to keep applying the pressure.

Johnston (36-4), the top seed in the tournament, had a six-run second inning and a three-run third, rallies that were built on errant throws, pitches with no command, and fielding errors, an amalgam of misery on one side of the field and joy on the other.

The sixth title for Johnston brought plenty of emotion to Dragons head coach Michael Barta, who thought about his senior class that has been part of what is now a seven-year run of state tournament appearances.

“The thousands of hours they’ve put in, the work they’ve done … that’s a great class,” he said. “That’s a historic class.”

“Since last winter, when we started putting in all of the work, it’s been a long ride,” said freshman Will Nuss. “To end it like this, it’s what everyone dreams about.”

Johnston fell to Pleasant Valley in last year’s championship game, a 14-5 defeat that hung over the team during the offseason.

There would be no disappointment on this night.

The Dragons feasted on every Dowling mistake. The Maroons finished with five errors, a frustration that just put more and more energy into the Johnston dugout.

“And I just loved that energy,” Barta said.

The second inning started with a double from Johnston’s Tyne Weeden. Cade Godwin followed with a single, then Dowling pitcher Evan Curran hit Jack Emanuel with a pitch.

It was only the beginning.

Curran hit two more batters and committed a throwing error that led to a run, before being lifted for reliever Luke Sheridan. Sheridan would have his own throwing error, as did catcher Trever Baumler. A three-hit inning for Johnston led to six runs, and the Maroons were well beyond rattled.

The third inning was more of the same — another hit-by-pitch, three wild pitches, and an error on a dropped fly ball to right field led to three more runs.

“We really got the bats going,” said Johnston pitcher Pierce Anderson. “It all came our way.”

The noise kept going from the Johnston dugout, but it was not about celebrating.

“I mean, the job’s not finished at that point,” Nuss said. “They’re a good team. They’re at the state tournament for a reason. So, you had to keep pushing.”

Anderson was calmly negotiating his way through the Dowling hitters. He surrendered a first-inning run when Sheridan’s single scored Cooper Nicholson, who led off the game with a double, but struck out four in a five-batter stretch, a display of control on a night when his team took advantage of the chaos around them.

“It’s a lot easier to pitch when you have the insurance like that,” Anderson said.

Anderson struck out six and walked just two while allowing only four hits.

“Pierce Anderson, he just rolled out there,” Barta said. “He was so good.”

Johnston finally finished off the sixth-seeded Maroons (27-16) in the sixth, when Godwin singled home two runs to end the game by the 10-run rule.

On a hot, humid night, Barta was drenched by a cold bucket of water from his celebrating players.

But before they got him, Barta tried to explain what the win meant.

“These seniors, they’ve just done so much,” he said. “I’m glad they went out this way.”