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No. 4 Dubuque Hempstead (15-1) vs. City High (11-8)
In one of two rematches between conference opponents in the Class 4A quarterfinals City High will seek a reversal of fortunes from the regular season meeting between the two teams won 5-4 by Dubuque Hempstead back on June 18.
City High earned it first state tournament appearance since 2003 with back-to-back walkoff substate wins over Cedar Rapids Jefferson and Linn-Mar.
Half of the losses this season for City High have come by one run with two more losses coming by two runs, and each of the last five games for City High have been decided by a single run.
City High features a trio of players hitting over .350 this season led by sophomore shortstop Gable Mitchell who leads the Little Hawks with a .439 batting average and 16 RBI.
Sophomore Carter Seaton is hitting .400 with eighth RBI while senior Garrett Bormann is batting .352 and has scored a team-leading 22 runs.
Expect the Little Hawks to go with sophomore Cade Obermueller in the quarterfinals. The sophomore lefty is 2-2 with a 2.96 ERA and has allowed 11 hits and struck out 26 in in 23 2/3 innings.
Dubuque Hempstead is making its first state tournament appearance since 2014 after defeating MVC rival Cedar Rapids Prairie 5-2 in the substate title game.
The Mustangs have win six straight since its only loss of the season, a 9-5 loss to Liberty High in the second game of a July 6 doubleheader in North Liberty.
Among the top offensive teams in the state, Dubuque Hempstead has scored double digit runs in half of its 16 games this season and enters state tournament play hitting .371 as a team.
Six Hempstead regulars are hitting .395 or better led by senior Devin Eudaley who is hitting a team-high .474 with 10 extra-base hits and 23 RBI.
Zach Sabers (.442), Trey Schaber (.433) and Logan Rune (.415) are all hitting over .400 this season.
Andrue Henry is the likely quarterfinal starter for the Mustangs. The senior is 5-0 with a .84 ERA with 25 strikeouts in 25 innings.
No. 1 Johnston (21-3) vs. Cedar Falls (7-1)
One of the most intriguing quarterfinal matchups in any class features perennial power and top-ranked Johnston against a Cedar Falls squad seeking to play spoiler after a postseason restart to its season.
One of the premier programs in the state, Johnston is making its first consecutive appearance after winning a title in 2017 and finishing runner-up to Urbandale last season.
The Dragons bring an 11-game winning streak into the state tournament despite facing a challenging schedule that featured 13 games against teams ranking the top-eight in the final 4A rankings.
Johnston went 10-3 in those games including a 6-5 substate final win over fifth-ranked Sioux City East.
If Johnston is the known commodity in the 4A field Cedar Falls is the unknown.
The Tigers got off to a strong 5-1 start 10 days into the season and then had to shut down for the rest of the regular season due to COVID-19 concerns and didn’t play for more than three weeks.
Cedar Falls restarted in time to win back-to-back postseason games over 2019 state qualifier Western Dubuque and ninth-ranked Cedar Rapids Kennedy to earn the second ever state tournament trip and first since 1989.
No. 3 Urbandale (17-9) vs. No. 7 Waukee (14-12)
The second of two regular season rematches in the 4A quarterfinals is the winner-take-all rubber game of a five-game 2020 series between the two CIML rivals.
The two teams split regular season double headers on June 23 and July 8 with three of those four games decided by one run.
Waukee won the final regular season meeting 1-0 after Urbandale won the first game of that doubleheader 4-3.
The only game between the two teams not decided by a single run was an 11-7 Urbandale victory in game two of the double dip back in June.
Two-time defending Urbandale is once again peaking at the right time. The J-Hawks have won eight of their last nine and four in a row after a 1-0 substate final win over Des Moines Roosevelt.
Eight of the nine losses for Urbandale came to ranked teams including four to state qualifiers.
The J-Hawks boast one of the best pitchers in the state in Iowa recruit Ty Langenberg who is 6-0 with a 1.14 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 37 innings.
Langenberg tossed a one-hit shutout with 11 strikeouts in the substate final win over Roosevelt.
Waukee is making its sixth state tournament appearance in the past seven seasons after seeing its string of five consecutive appearances halted last season.
Don’t be fooled by the record, Waukee played one of the most challenging schedules in the state with 14 of its 26 games coming against ranked teams.
The Warriors went 5-9 in those contests and went 3-5 against teams in the 4A tournament field.
No. 2 Ankeny (19-8) vs. Pleasant Valley (13-11)
One of these two 2019 qualifiers will reach the semifinals after dropping their state tournament openers a year ago.
Ankeny returned to the state tournament for the second straight season with a 5-0 win over Council Bluffs Lincoln in the substate final behind a 10-strikeout, one-hit performance by junior Brody Brecht.
An Iowa football recruit, Brecht has fanned 53 in 28 innings this season and is 2-0 with a 2.50 ERA.
Ankeny played 14 regular season games against ranked 4A competition, going 9-5 in those games that includes a 4-2 mark against other teams in the 4A field.
Pleasant Valley returns to Principal Park for the second straight season after dropping its 2019 opener to West High and Marcus Morgan.
The Spartans opened the season 2-6 and dropped five of six to end the regular season but rebounded to outscored opponents 22-7 in three substate wins including a 12-3 victory over No. 10 Liberty High in the substate final.
Senior right-hander Jack Young will likely get the nod in the quarterfinals for the second straight season and is 4-1 with a 1.97 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 32 innings.
Junior Seth Clausen, a Minnesota recruit is hitting .389 with 17 RBI to lead the Spartan offense.
Johnston – Gabe Swansen, Jr., 2B: Nebraska commit is hitting .423 and leads the Dragons with four home runs, 30 RBI and 40 runs scored.
Cedar Falls – Gage Flanscha, Jr., C/P: Flanscha is hitting .387 with two home runs ands 12 RBI in 31 at bats and posted a 3-0 record and 3.57 ERA in a team-leading 17 2/3 innings.
Urbandale – Dillon Kuehl, Soph., OF: A .325 hitter, Kuehl ranks second in Class 4A with five home runs and leads 4A with 34 RBI and has scored a team-high 29 runs.
Waukee – Jalen Martinez, Sr., CF: The senior leadoff hitter leads the Warriors in batting average (.448), hits (26), home runs (3), RBI (13) and runs (21).
Ankeny – Brody Brecht, Jr., CF/P: Iowa football recruit is hitting .342 with three home runs and 23 RBI and is 2-0 with a 2.50 ERA with 53 strikeouts in a team-high 28 innings.
Pleasant Valley – Jack Young, Sr., P/2B: A returning first-team all-state selection, Young is 4-1 with a 1.97 ERA with 33 strikeouts in 32 innings and is also hitting .339 with 10 RBI.
Dubuque Hempstead – Andrue Henry, Sr., P/1B: A difference maker on the mound or at the plate Henry is 5-0 with a .84 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 25 innings and is hitting .396 with two home runs and 14 RBI.
City High – Gable Mitchell, Soph., SS: In his second season as a full-time varsity starter Mitchell led City High in batting average (.439), hits (25) triples (3) home runs, RBI (16) and stolen bases (11).
Johnston enters top-ranked and top-seeded and has the talent, experience and depth to win a second title in the past four seasons.
However, until someone finds a way to beat Urbandale at Principal Park the J-Hawks remain the favorite.
Urbandale has all the ingredients it takes to win a title, solid defense, stellar pitching and a lineup with pop but more importantly the J-Hawks seem to play their best at Principal Park.
Until dethroned, Urbandale stays the pick in 4A.
Regular season rematches in the almost always evenly match 4 vs. 5 and 6 vs. 3 seed matchups along with a couple of wildcards in Cedar Falls and Pleasant Valley make picking this bracket a challenge.
Signs point to a rematch of last year’s title game between Johnston and Urbandale in one semifinal with the winner the favorite in the championship game.
On the bottom half of the bracket Pleasant Valley won’t be an easy out but Ankeny it looks like Ankeny gives the CIML three semifinalists and will face City High who avenges a walk-off regular season loss to Hempstead with the upset of the opening round.
Will the CIML keep its stranglehold on the 4A title.
The Central Iowa Metro League has won eight of the last nine Class 4A championships and each of the last three.
You have to go back to 2016 when Cedar Rapids Prairie defeated West High to find a non-CIML champion and it had been six years before that (Cedar Rapids Kennedy in 2010) since the last time a CIML team didn’t hoist the 4A trophy.
The balance of power has further shifted to central Iowa recently.
Since Prairie and West High met in an all MVC championship in 2016 five of the six title game participants have been CIML schools.
Last season Urbandale defeated Johnston for its second consecutive title and the CIML makes up half of the 4A field this season.
Five Fast Facts
* – City High is 4-1 all-time in its state tournament opener, has won four straight openers at state and has never lost a state quarterfinal.
* – Johnston ranks second in Class 4A in batting average at .358 and leads 4A in home runs (17), RBI (206) and runs scored (246).
* – Cedar Falls had 24 days between its final regular season game (a 12-3 win over Western Dubuque) and its first postseason game (a 4-3 win over Western Dubuque).
* – Class 4A (Johnston and Urbandale) and Class 2A (North Linn and Van Meter) are the only brackets that feature both of the title game participants from last season.
* – Urbandale is attempting to become just the second team to ever win three consecutive 4A titles and the first since West Des Moines Valley won four in a row from 2003 to 2006.
Quarterfinals, Wednesday July 29
Johnston (21-3) vs. Cedar Falls (7-1), 1:30 p.m.
Urbandale (17-9) vs. Waukee (14-12), 10:30 a.m.
Ankeny (19-8) vs. Pleasant Valley (13-11), 7:30 p.m.
Dubuque Hempstead (15-1) vs. City High (11-8), 4:30 p.m.
Semifinals, Friday July 31
Johnston/Cedar Falls winner vs. Urbandale/Waukee winner, 4:30/7:30 p.m.
Ankeny/Pleasant Valley winner vs. Dubuque Hempstead/City High winner, 4:30/7:30 p.m.
Championship, Saturday August 1
Semifinal winners, 7:30 p.m.