SIOUX CITY -- Two days after playing each other in a rescheduled regular season finale, second-seeded East hosts fifth-seeded West in a first round Class 4A substate baseball game Friday as they join Class 3A in getting the postseason started.
The Black Raiders earned the Missouri River Activities Conference championship and are looking to build off last year’s postseason run when they reached a substate final.
“It has been a rocky last couple of years but the kids have been developing all winter, all summer,” East coach Kevin Dicus said. “They are a great group of kids that just work hard and seem to be gelling together. You are seeing things developing and it is becoming second nature to them.”
East is led on the mound by Nate Zyzda who has fashioned a 7-0 record with a 1.47 ERA while Alec Patino is hitting .455 at the plate. Seniors D.J. Drent and Josh Nutt are hitting .354 and .378, respectively, for a team that came up one win short of state a year ago.
“I think our kids are confident and that was a huge win at (West Des Moines) Valley last year, and nobody in the state gave you a chance and you come out on top,” Dicus said. “I think our kids thrive on that and now we want to go one step further and see what happens.”
West is led by junior Jesse Elgert who is hitting .410 with 16 doubles and 34 RBIs while Jaren Hollingshead is hitting .343. Both Max Luesebrink and Alec Nieman have four wins apiece on the mound this season.
“Over the last three and a half weeks we are hitting right about .375 as a team,” West coach Beau Brown said. “We got on a nice little winning streak last week and hopefully we can get a few more to keep those winning ways going.
“If we can pitch like I know we are able to and we get some timely hits that’s been our key all season. We have outhit a lot of our opponents, we are just not getting the timely hits to drive in runs.”
Third-seeded North faces fourth-seeded Fort Dodge in Lawton. The Stars are led by Trent Frerichs on the mound where he went 7-2 with a 1.21 ERA during the regular season. Senior Aaron Eybers leads the way at the plate with a .400 average and 44 hits on the season.
“Anytime we have Frerichs on the hill going for us we have a shot to win so we can beat anybody,” North coach Nick Tillo said. “We play solid defense behind him usually and if the bats come along then I don’t see us having a problem. That has kind of been our problem all year with the batting average and the sticks.”
Top-ranked Johnston is also in this substate bracket.
“This is my sixth year and in five of the six years we have had to pair up with a Johnston or a Dowling Catholic so it is not easy, but if the ultimate goal is to win state you might as well knock them off in your district then,” Brown said.
In Class 3A, Heelan draws MOC-Floyd Valley in the opening round at Le Mars. It is the second meeting of the year with the Crusaders taking the first one 9-0.
Hunter Hope, the team's all-time single-season RBI leader, is hitting .480 with 14 doubles and five home runs while Colin Kasperbauer is averaging .403. Christian Velasquez is 6-1 on the mound for Heelan while Brenden Roder, Tom Schiltz and T.J. Chamberlain have four wins apiece.
“This senior group has been through this, Jack Boever, Hunter Hope, Colin Kasperbauer, those guys are four-year varsity starters for us,” Heelan coach Andy Osborne said. “They have been through this several times. I think our experience obviously helps us … the only concern I have is I hope we wouldn’t look past anybody.”
Heelan is looking to make its third straight trip to state. To do so it will have to reach the substate final to face the winner of District 2.
Sergeant Bluff-Luton faces Spirit Lake in that district while host Storm Lake faces Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley. SB-L owns a win over Storm Lake, 3-0, this season.
The Warriors' Spencer Kleene is hitting .432 on the season with 48 hits and 38 RBIs. Daniel Wright has a 6-1 record on the mound with a 2.93 ERA.
“I think the parity and competitiveness of the teams in our district, I am not sure of other districts, from one through eight there is no gimmie,” SB-L coach Matt Nelson said. “The last couple of years we have had a pretty veteran group. Guys that had played in state tournaments, played in games with chances to win and go to state championship games, so it has been a different year with really two starters back and all new guys.
“I think this is where playing the schedule we do helps. Playing a lot of quality competition, playing in a conference where we see a lot of solid 4A teams on this side of the state. We are trying to get out of our way a little bit because we have put in the work and done the things we need to.”
Storm Lake has a trio of pitchers in freshman Mark Eddie, junior Ethan James and senior Brayden Hoops who all have at least five victories on the season. Hoops is also hitting .482 on the season.
Spencer and Le Mars are in the bottom bracket in this district with the Crusaders having downed the Bulldogs 8-1 and the Tigers 15-0 earlier this season.
“The challenge with a team like Sergeant Bluff is that we both know each other so well,” Osborne said. “Batters one through nine you will see a kid 16 times if the lineup holds. That is 16 opportunities to see a kid swing, how he reacts to a breaking ball, how he swings at a fastball on the inner half.
“At the end of the day it comes down to a kid executing and whoever makes the fewest mistakes.”