Your Prep Sports
The start of the state baseball tournament is just a few days away.
For the second straight season both City High and Liberty High qualified for the Class 4A state tournament that gets underway at Duane Banks Field in Iowa City on Tuesday.
State tournament action gets underway on Monday with Class 1A and 2A at Merchants Park in Carroll and Class 3A and 4A at Banks Field in Iowa City.
Before turning our attention to the state tournament Your Prep Sports takes a look back at the best of the baseball season so far.
Best individual pitching performance: Jake Mitchell against Liberty High. Mitchell was excellent all season but the City High junior left hander was never better or more efficient than he was in a 2-0, 88-pitch, complete game win over Liberty High. Mitchell held the Lightning hitless for 6 2/3 innings striking out five, walking one and hitting a batter in the win.
Best individual pitching performance part II: Ben Hoefer against Cedar Rapids Prairie. There were more impressive statistical performances than what Hoefer had against the Hawks, pitchers posted more strikeouts and allowed fewer hits. However, what Hoefer did against a Cedar Rapids Prairie offense that ranked in the top five in 4A in batting average and runs is among the best efforts of the seasons after the senior right-hander shutout Prairie for only the second time this season allowing five hits and two walks over six innings in a 1-0 West High win.
Best individual offensive performance: Drew Carlson against Dubuque Senior. City High needed an offensive spark after mustering just four hits in a 2-1 loss to the Rams in the opening game of a doubleheader. Carlson provided just that with a 4-for-4, two-home run, nine-RBI effort that sparked City High to a 21-0 win that started a 13-game win-streak for the Little Hawks.
Best individual offensive performance part II: Danny Gavin against West Branch. The lost of five-hit games in the state his season is short and one of those performances belongs to Gavin who went 5-for-5 with a double, a home run, four RBI and two runs scored in a 12-2 win over the Bears.
Best individual all-around performance: Josh Loren against Mount Vernon. Loren did enough on the mound alone to be in consideration for this award, striking out 10 in a complete game shutout of the Mustangs. However, the Clear Creek Amana senior did plenty more in the 5-0 win over the Mustangs going 3-for-3 with a double, an RBI and a run scored.
Best clutch offensive performance: Luke Ramsey against Cedar Rapids Prairie. Ramsey was 2-for-4 with a triple, a run scored and two RBI in a 6-2 substate final win over second-ranked Cedar Rapids Prairie to cap what was an incredibly clutch three-game substate run for the Liberty High senior centerfielder. In three postseason games Ramsey is 6-for-9 with a double, a triple, six runs scored and three RBI.
Best clutch pitching performance: Solon junior Vince Steinbrech against Clear Creek Amana. It doesn’t get more clutch than coming up with the best performance of your career with the season on the line. That’s what Steinbrech did against the Clippers tossing a four-hit shutout with seven strikeouts the substate quarterfinals.
Biggest upset: Liberty High over Cedar Rapids Prairie. It isn’t just the win over 4A second-ranked and top-seeded Cedar Rapids Prairie it is the stakes and how Liberty High got the win that stands out. The Lightning trailed 2-0 after four innings facing a pitcher in Prairie senior Maddux Frese that hadn’t lost a game all season before scoring six unanswered runs to advance to the state tournament for the second year in a row.
Best game: Solon against Mid-Prairie. As entertaining a game as you can expect Solon rallied from a 2-1 deficit with a five-run fifth inning only to have Mid-Prairie tie the game with four runs in the top of the seventh. The Spartans won in walk off fashion 7-6 over the 2A top-ranked Golden Hawks.
Best moment: Jack Tierney against Solon. Watching Tierney hugging his teammates and receiving a standing ovation from fans waving American flags before the Regina senior walked off the field for the final time on the eve of reporting to the Air Force Academy was a moment that gave goosebumps.
Biggest hit: Max Lodge against Regina. Is there a better way for the only home run of the season to come than with the bases loaded in an upset of your arch rival? That’s what Lodge did when the West Branch junior first baseman hammered a grand slam in the second inning of a 7-3 win over Regina.
Most versatile player: West High senior Nate Anderson. Few players in the area had a bigger impact on their team as a hitter, fielder and pitcher as Anderson who had the best season of his career as a senior. Anderson led West High with a .367 batting average and had 12 RBI and scored 12 runs while also pitching in a team-high 22 games posting a 6-4 record, two saves and a 3.76 ERA in 35 1/3 innings.
Most improved player: Clear Creek Amana senior Jack Downes. This is not a case of a player that struggled a season ago turning into a solid contributor. Downes had a good junior season last summer but in his final prep season the Clear Creek Amana catcher was better than good – he was excellent hitting a career-high .393 with four home runs and 28 RBI while leading the Clippers with a .579 on-base percentage and .631 slugging percentage.
Breakthrough player of the year: City High senior DJ Hodges. A solid player in a part-time role last season Hodges became one of the key cogs on a City High squad that returned to the 4A state tournament for the second consecutive season. Hodges hit .374 with four home runs and 31 RBI while leading the Little Hawks with 38 runs scored.
Most consistent player: West High senior Ryne Vander Leest. Over the past two seasons when Vander Leest showed up to the ball park you knew what to expect, and among the things the senior infielder consistently did was produce. Vander Leest had a hit in 28 of 40 games this season including nine of the final 11 on his way to hitting .362 with 15 RBI and 33 runs scored.
Breakout star: Clear Creek Amana sophomore Kaden Phan. Last season Phan was solid hitting .314 in 54 at bats as a freshman but in his first year as a full-time starter this summer he turned into one of the best young hitters in Class 3A. Phan batted .367 with 13 extra-base hits including two home runs and led CCA with 36 RBI.
Unsung hero: Liberty High junior Ryan Schmierer. By the end of the season Schmierer had curtained garnered plenty of attention but the speed outfielder spent most of the season quietly playing excellent baseball while producing out of the nine spot in the lineup. Schmierer led Liberty High with a .375 batting average and 11 stolen bases, drove in 13 runs and scored 22 runs.
Ironman award: Regina senior Danny Gavin. For the past three seasons there has been one constant in the Regina lineup – Gavin. The senior centerfielder started all 34 games this season giving him 89 consecutive starts over the past three seasons. And Gavin hasn’t just played, he’s produced. A career .385 hitter with more than 100 career hits Gavin had his best season this summer batting a career-high .411 with four home runs and 32 RBI.
Coach of the year: City High’s Brian Mitchell. This may rank as one of the best coaching jobs in the 12-year tenure for Mitchell at his alma mater after he directed a City High team that lost eight full-time starters from a year ago to a 30-win season and a second consecutive 4A state tournament appearance.
Rookie of the year: Regina eighth grader Will Litton. Before his first day as a high school student Litton made his presence felt on the baseball diamond emerged as a key piece of the rotation for Regina. Litton went 4-2 with a 2.07 ERA and struck out 47 in 40 2/3 innings in his first season of high school baseball.
Newcomer of the year: City High sophomore Dominic Salibi. There was no adjustment period necessary for Salibi who made a major impact both in field and at the plate in his varsity debut season. Salibi batted a team-high .424 with 19 extra-base hits including three home runs, drove in 33 runs and scored 24 runs while helping City High reach the state tournament.
Newcomer of the year part II: Liberty High sophomore Mason Waterbury. The Liberty lefty help solidify the Lighting rotation in his first varsity season posting a 5-1 record and 2.47 ERA while striking out 37 in 34 innings pitched.
Silver slugger: Solon senior Blake Timmons. A four-year starter Timmons did this season what he has done since breaking into the lineup as a freshman – hit. Timmons batted .421 as a senior with a .577 on-base percentage and ended a stellar career with 155 hits.
Cy Young: Talon Young sophomore City High. The latest in a growing list of strong front of the rotation starters for City High Young emerged as one of the best pitchers in the state as a sophomore. The sturdy right-hander was one of only five pitchers state-wide, and the only pitcher in Class 4A, to throw more than 57 innings and post an ERA under 1.00.
Young ranked in the top 10 in Class 4A in wins (8), ERA (.72), WHIP (.91), and innings pitched (58 1/3) during a dominant season.
Relief pitcher of the year: Liberty High senior Jackson Tubbs. A big part of the late-season charge for the Lightning was the work of Tubbs out of the bullpen. The senior stopper went 4-0 with three saves in 18 appearances posting a 3.55 ERA while striking out 39 in 25 2/3 innings all in relief.
Most valuable player: Solon junior Brett White. Already considered among the best hitters in the state White continued to build on his reputation as one of the state’s top all-around talents. While playing across the infield this season White hit .460 with 25 extra-base hits, seven home runs, 38 RBI and 61 runs scored to go with 36 walks and 37 stolen bases.