LARCHWOOD, Iowa – The numbers are eye-popping and impressive, but whether it is coach or players it is what goes unseen by most that has led to West Lyon’s dynamic start on the baseball diamond.
The Class 2A fifth-ranked Wildcats are off to a 14-0 start and are led by a deep and talented group of seniors that are looking to get West Lyon back to the state tournament for the first time since 1996.
“It is just a testament to putting in work in the offseason,” West Lyon coach Koury Kramer said. “We start throwing in February and the kids have really committed to the offseason program, and it’s nice to see the rewards on the baseball field.”
It can lead to plenty of busy days during the year as they play a sport while preparing for another, but there is one overriding reason the Wildcats seem to do it.
“It is busy but we love it, we love that grind,” Wildcat senior Jaden Snyder said. “It is a special group of guys it takes to do all four sports and have fun doing it. It has been awesome making memories with these guys one last time, being a Wildcat one last time.”
The rewards have shown up for a team that has had just two games it did not win by at least 10 runs to this point. Four West Lyon players are batting .500 or better led by Snyder’s .707 batting average. Snyder and senior teammate Tanner Oleson lead the team in runs scored (31). Oleson is hitting .550 while fellow seniors Monte Pottebaum (.538) and Dylan Snyders (.537) don’t give opposing pitchers a chance to relax.
The Wildcats’ pitching staff is equally intimidating with senior Noah Van’t Hof and Snyder going a combined 7-0 while the team boasts a 1.75 ERA. Last week the Wildcats went 5-0 getting a pair of no-hitters from Snyder and Van't Hof while Nate Grotewold and Jalyn Gramstad turned in one-hitters in victory.
With so many blowouts is Kramer worried about his team being prepared for what will likely be much closer games as the calendar turns to July?
“It is always a concern with late-game situations,” he said. “We do our best to try to mimic that stuff in practices and you don’t see it until you get in those situations. We played Sioux Center (a 6-3 win) a couple of weeks ago and that was a fun atmosphere. Fun game, close game, tight game where every play mattered.”
West Lyon has made the state tournament six times in the school’s history, but with no trips since 1996 it is a hungry group that finished as the state runner-up in football in the fall. The Wildcats went 24-5 a year ago falling to Estherville Lincoln Central 5-3 to end its season in a district final.
“It was a tough end of the season because I think we all felt we didn’t have our full squad,” Kramer said. “We had a freak accident that happened late in the year that caused one of our pitchers and starting center fielder (Van’t Hof) to be out of the lineup.
“It ran into his football and basketball season, but we finally have him back healthy. I think the kids were motivated by that loss.”
“We have one goal in mind and we are putting in the work to get there,” Snyder said. “Nothing else really matters.”
Snyder, Pottebaum, Oleson and Van't Hof saw significant time in the varsity lineup as freshmen for an 11-11 team. The Wildcats went 13-9 in their sophomore campaign before taking off the past two seasons.
It is a close-knit group that uses it to their advantage.
“We are good friends that have been playing football and baseball since first, second grade so we know each other pretty well,” Snyders said. “We just go out and have fun and play ball. Nothing better than that.”
Kramer credits a shift to encouraging more multi-sport athletes over the past three or four years for helping elevate the baseball team.
“We want to be good in multiple sports and it may not be your favorite but it might be your buddy’s favorite, and I think the kids have really bought into that,” he said.