Although the 2021 Iowa high school baseball state tournament has two new homes, the anticipation for the postseason hasn’t waned a bit. Players won’t feel the excitement of playing in the cavernous Principal Park, but the goals of a state championship are still prevalent.
With slow eyes turning to either Merchants Park or Duane Banks Field, teams of all levels are now on the right track. Title contenders have emerged. Defending champions are reinforced for one repetition. Players can envision an end-of-season celebration.
With this, let’s drop some midseason baseball analysis on a variety of topics. Records and statistics are valid until June 23rd.
Breaking the image of the Iowa Baseball Championship
Can anyone in east Iowa end this run of CIML domination? Nine of the last 10 Grade 4A baseball titles went to Des Moines schools, with Johnston (2013, 2017, 2020), Urbandale (2018-19), Southeast Polk (2014-15), Ankeny (2012), and Dowling Catholic (2011) all embarking on the championship action. Only Cedar Rapids Prairie briefly interrupted the CIML in 2016.
And what about 2021?
Pleasant Valley (16-1) appears to be the best challenger in east Iowa as it topped the IHSBCA’s latest baseball rankings ahead of Dowling, Johnston and Ankeny. The Spartans suffered their first loss of the season in Western Dubuque on Wednesday, but a deep and diverse pitching team has prepared Pleasant Valley for a deep July run.
Led by Minnesota signatory Seth Clausen (5-0, 0.90), the Spartans have five pitchers that have thrown double-digit innings. Four have ERAs below 2.60. This is the depth you need to navigate successfully through the state tournament, especially in an offense that is 36th with 4A in runs scored (113).
And if Pleasant Valley, Cedar Rapids Prairie (21-3), Iowa City High (19-6), Dubuque Hempstead (17-4) or anyone else in the east can’t claim the 4A title, you’d best believe someone from them CIML will be ready to jump.
Aside from Davenport Assumption’s three titles in five years (2014, 2017-18), Class 3A has a different baseball champion every season since 2010. And with defending champion Norwalk now in 4A, the door is wide open for more offspring.
Marion (19-3) is currently in the driver’s seat after she has just lost a winning streak of 11 games with all three defeats to the 4A competition. After the program’s first non-victorious season in over a decade, this year looks more like the 2019 product that ended at 33-6.
With five games in state tournaments since 2006 but no titles, could this be the group bringing Marion back to baseball hardware? Led by Florida International Signatory Owen Puk, this veteran group of 10 senior class members has the postseason experience to get the job done.
The next level consists of multiple teams sacrificing gaudy records for higher-level competition. Wahlert Katholik (18-6) only lost against 4A opponents. The same goes for four defeats by Central DeWitt. Solon (16-7) and Cedar Rapids Xavier (15-8) also did not interfere with several tests.
Of all the classes, 3A feels the most open.
With 72 wins in the last 82 games since the beginning of 2019, Van Meter (15-5) is 2A’s top dog until further notice. Another title in the next month would be the first three-peat in 2A since Kee from 1989 to 1991.
So can someone beat the Bulldogs?
The current 2A Top-10 of the IHSBCA has only faced Van Meter three times this season – twice No. 4 Panorama (12-4) and once No. 5 Des Moines Christian (16-5). Van Meter won all three, but none with more than two runs.
These two programs have different experiences with state tournaments – Panorama hasn’t been around since 1998 while Des Moines Christian has been for the last two years – but if either of them hits Van Meter in the postseason, there is confidence that the Bulldogs will be overthrown can.
Two other challengers are trying to regain glory from the past and could possibly do so at Van Meter’s expense. Roland-Story (18-4) took part in three tournaments in a row from 2013 to 2015, but has not returned since then. Beckman Catholic (15-7) has made 18 all-time state tournament appearances and six titles, but not in any category as of 2017.
Obviously there are no players left from any of these runs. However, the prestige of Roland-Story and Beckman will be important in a government setting. Eliminating Van Meter could be the perfect avenue for either program to revive former dominance.
With 24 state tournament appearances and eight titles – six of which have been since 2013 – any season that doesn’t end in dog poo isn’t going to go down well with Newman Catholic (21-1). The Knights championship run was interrupted by Don Bosco a season ago.
What has Newman Catholic done about it? Well, it destroyed almost everyone in 2021.
With the state’s best Team ERA at 1.23, the Knights pitching team overwhelms 1A enemies almost every night. Only five teams have scored more than three runs on Newman Catholic, and one of them was 4A Power Dowling (the only team to beat the Knights in 2021).
Six Newman Catholic pitchers have thrown double-digit innings. The worst ERA among them is 2.50. That’s a recipe for success when the championship lights come on.
Even with the only undefeated team in the state and a trio of teams with a loss based in 1A – these are New London (16-0), Tri-Center (17-1), Ankeny Christian (18-1) and North Linn (23rd). -1) – Betting against a motivated Newman Catholic squad appears to be ending badly.
Chances in a row?
As we look at the four defending champions, this is the last time a program ran in each class in a row.
- Class 4A: Urbandals (2018-19)
- Class 3A: Davenport adoption (2017-18)
- Class 2A: Van meter (2019-20)
- Class 1A: Newman Catholic (2017-19)
As you can see, back-to-back has happened quite a lot lately. Here’s a quick rundown of where the 2020 winners stand in 2021.
- Class 4A: Johnston; currently 22-3; Place in the latest 4A IHSBCA survey.
- Class 3A: Norwalk; currently 21-1; Ninth place in the latest 4A IHSBCA poll.
- Class 2A: Van Meter; currently 15-5; Place in the latest 2A IHSBCA survey.
- Class 1A: Don Bosco; currently 14-4; Fifth place in the last 1A IHSBCA survey.
Thin: As mentioned earlier, Van Meter seems most likely from this group to defend his 2020 crown. Johnston is in charge of the clubhouse to continue the run of the CIML while Don Bosco is at least within range of a state return. Norwalk, who jumped to 4A in the last off-season, could be the first school since Solon to repeat in a larger grade (won 2A in 2010, then 3A in 2011).
Dargan Southard reports on Iowa and UNI Athletics, Recruitment, and Preparation for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com, and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.