ALGONA - Beating a quality opponent three times in one season is never an easy task.
Ninth-ranked Algona still found a way to accomplish that here Wednesday night.
Punching their first state baseball ticket since 2010, the Bulldogs (27-7 overall) escaped with a 3-2 triumph over No. 10 Humboldt in a Class 3A, Substate 2 final. Earlier this year, Algona won both meetings over the Wildcats in North Central Conference play by scores of 1-0 and 4-3.
The Algona baseball team celebrates after defeating Humboldt 3-2 in a 3A substate final at Algona to advance to the state tournament in Des Moines.
Humboldt’s Nick Laing swings at a pitch against Algona in a Class 3A substate final.
Next up for the seventh-seeded Bulldogs is No. 2 seed Sergeant Bluff-Luton (24-11) in a 3A state quarterfinal on Tuesday evening in Des Moines. First pitch is set for 6 p.m. at Principal Park. The Warriors upset second-ranked Sioux City Heelan on Wednesday, 2-1.
"This is exciting because these kids have been so incredibly consistent all year," said first-year AHS head coach Mike Elsbecker, who previously directed North Sentral Kossuth to a 1A state title in 2008. "I knew we could be a better team this season, but I wasn't really expecting (a state bid). We went 13-20 last year, and I didn't come into the program until March. It's been a fun ride."
Senior ace Weston Shaw (11-0) went the distance on the mound for the Bulldogs in his third victory this season against Humboldt, scattering five hits and two earned runs. Shaw walked two and fanned seven, throwing 68 of his 106 pitches for strikes.
ALGONA 3, HUMBOLDT 2
Humboldt 000 000 2-2 5 3
Algona 000 021 x-3 6 1
Weston Shaw (W, 11-0; 7 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 7 K) and Tyler Frideres; Chris Witzke (L, 5-3; 5 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 7 K), Connor Vitzthum (1 IP, 0 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 1 K) and Brenden Schnell.
2B-H: Vitzthum; A: Shaw. MH-A: Blake Elsbecker (2), Justin Raymond (2). CS-A: Alex Remy. LOB-H 6, A 10.
He retired the side in order in the second, third and fourth frames. Shaw now owns a 0.78 ERA with 100 strikeouts in 72 innings of work this summer.
"Our pitcher was pretty emotional after the game, which shows just how much this means to him," Elsbecker said. "The last time Algona made state in 2010 (Shaw) and our catcher (Tyler Frideres) actually played on that team, too."
After both teams were held in check offensively through the first four innings, the Bulldogs broke the scoreless tie in the bottom of the fifth. Shaw led off with a double to the left-center field gap, followed by a RBI single to right from sophomore No. 2 hitter Blake Elsbecker.
Two batters later, Nathan Benson laid down a perfectly executed bunt down the first base line that resulted in a Wildcat error at first, allowing Elsbecker to come home with an insurance run.
Still up 2-0 in the sixth, senior Justin Raymond plated the last Algona tally following a passed ball on a third strike.
Elsbecker and Raymond each collected a pair of hits and a walk for the Bulldogs, who have prevailed in five straight and 12 of their last 13 games.
"Give credit to our seniors for being such incredible leaders and positive role models," said Elsbecker, the brother of Fort Dodge athletic and activities director Matt Elsbecker. "It's almost impossible to beat a team like Humboldt three times.
"Their pitching is oustanding. They just have so many arms they can go to. They'll be really tough for at least the next two years."
With its season hanging in the balance, Humboldt (23-7) ruined Shaw's potential shutout by scoring two runs in the seventh. Senior Nick Laing knocked in Connor Vitzthum - who earlier doubled - with a RBI ground out to third. Chris Witzke later delivered a two-out single to right, plating freshman Devon Clark.
Shaw eventually wiggled off the hook by inducing Dillon Fevold into a routine 5-3 ground out to end the game, setting off a wild Algona celebration. The Bulldogs also qualified for state in 1999.
"Overall, we had a great season with a lot of high moments and great highlights," HHS head coach Jason Thurm said. "This obviously hurts right now, but our kids kept their heads up the entire time and gave themselves a chance.
"I'm extremely proud of them."
Austin Zylstra, Brady Shelgren and Clark managed the other Wildcat hits. Humboldt left the bags full in the fifth.
Witzke (5-3) took the loss, yielding six hits over five innings. The sophomore southpaw walked two and fanned seven.
Algona stranded 10 base runners, including at least one in every inning.
Fevold, Laing, Zachary Parle and Austin Saathoff all wrapped up their Humboldt careers on the diamond.
"We've got a great core group coming back," said Thurm. "We have a lot to be excited about in the future."