MUSCATINE — Jacob Maher knew the ball was out when he hit it.
The fact that the outfield fence in straightaway center field at Tom Bruner Field was 370 feet away, not to mention at least 20 feet high, didn't dampen his confidence.
"I knew it was out as soon as I hit the ball. It was a good pitch. I found one I liked and I drove it," said Maher, a freshman whose three-run, nearly 400-foot home run in the third inning was the big hit as Central DeWitt rolled to a 6-1 win over Assumption in a Class 3A substate final Wednesday.
The win sends the Sabers to state for the fourth time in program history, and first since a runner-up finish in 2019.
"This is great but I think we won the game because we had our teammates behind us," Maher said. "Seeing my teammates huddled around home plate when I was coming around third was just surreal."
Maher's blast was the cap on an early onslaught from the Sabers, who piled up all eight of their hits in the first four innings, seven coming off Assumption starter Noah Mack. They took a 1-0 lead on a pair of two-out doubles in the first inning, including a run-scoring hit from Noah Thein. Maher's home run put Central DeWitt up 4-0, then a double from Boomer Johnson in the fourth inning off reliever J.J. Stratman — the Sabers' last hit of the night — upped the lead to 5-0.
Central DeWitt (23-15) had seen Mack (5-1) exactly a month prior in the nightcap of an Assumption doubleheader sweep, when he allowed two runs on 10 hits. Wednesday he allowed five runs on seven hits.
"I don't think Noah's velo was where it had been in the past; I don't know the reason for that," Assumption head coach Greg Thissen said. "I don't know if he was tender. I've been around baseball long enough, sometimes a guy just doesn't have his best stuff."
On the other side, Central DeWitt didn't pitch Johnson (8-2) in that June doubleheader, and the Saber pitcher was strong throughout the night. He allowed just two hits through the first four innings and didn't allow a run until an RBI double from John Argo — who went 3-for-3 with two doubles — in the seventh inning.
"I figured I'd just stay calm. Stay calm, collected, and if I get frustrated, I can't do that," said Johnson, who also had two doubles at the plate. "If I do that, I'll start missing and start giving up hits. That first inning, getting one run really set the tone for the game."
Johnson found a little bit of trouble in the seventh, with runners at the corners and just one out following Argo's double, but a 6-4-3 double play ended the game and started the celebration. It was the second double play of the game, and of the 21 total outs, shortstop Henry Bloom had a hand in eight of them.
It's the second straight loss in a substate final for Assumption (25-14), which returns 20 of the 21 players on the roster.
"I thought we had a good enough team to make a run, which makes it pretty salty to go down like this," Thissen said. "The future's bright, it just really sucks when you're here, you think you've got a team that can go all the way and come up short."
That doubleheader loss to Assumption was part of a stretch where Central DeWitt lost 10 of 15 games. Since their last loss of that stretch, the Sabers are 3-0, have outscored opponents 22-3 and are back in the state tournament.
"We work to get better toward this time of year," Central DeWitt head coach Shane Sikkema said. "We just continue to keep getting better, we're a good program, we have confidence in ourselves and it comes all the way back to the hard work we've put in."