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A SEASON TO REMEMBER ENDS WITH 4 STATE CHAMPS - large image

A SEASON TO REMEMBER ENDS WITH 4 STATE CHAMPS

Where to start with the recap of the 2020 Iowa high school state baseball tournament?

It turns out that for this year at least, it’s not where, but when.

And we’re going to start in March at the state basketball tournament. On Wednesday of the tournament, the COVID-19 coronavirus was termed a pandemic by the World Health Organization. Concerns about the rapidly spreading virus forced the cancellation of sporting events nationwide. On that Thursday, the Iowa High School Athletic Association decided to complete the tournament, although limiting schools to just 100 fans each during their championship games Friday inside cavernous Wells Fargo Arena.

Those, it turned out, would be the last high school athletic contests played in Iowa — and much of the nation — until June 15. Spring sports were delayed, then canceled. Summer sports were delayed. On May 20, a proclamation from Gov. Kim Reynolds allowed high school sports to resume, and within hours the IHSAA announced a June 1 return for baseball practice, and a June 15 return for games. Iowa became the only state in the nation to resume high school sports during the global pandemic.

And at 1 p.m. on June 15, Tri-County and Colfax-Mingo opened the 2020 Iowa high school baseball season at Principal Park. It was also the first baseball game of the year at Principal Park as the triple-A Iowa Cubs season was still delayed at that point (and eventually canceled).

The short season was not without its problems. COVID-19 positive tests interrupted many teams’ schedules. Some late-season games were canceled out of caution as the postseason neared. Cedar Falls posted a 5-1 record on June 25 before a positive test forced a quarantine until a substate game on July 20. The Tigers won their two substate games to advance to state at 7-1.

There were 12 teams who didn’t make it to the postseason because of the virus. Some never made it to the brackets; others magically disappeared from the seed lines. 


COVID-19 RELATED WITHDRAWLS FROM POSTSEASON
4A: Council Bluffs Thomas Jefferson; Dowling Catholic; Dubuque Senior; Muscatine; Southeast Polk
3A: Knoxville
2A: Sibley-Ocheyedan
1A: BCLUW; North Butler; North Tama; Northwood-Kensett; Storm Lake St. Mary’s; Turkey Valley
SOURCE: IHSAA


And what about Principal Park? A positive test by an employee forced the postponement of two regular-season games there. Alternate state tournament sites were readied in case it happened again.

Enough background.

THE STATE TOURNAMENT

It was the 16th straight year for the state tournament at Principal Park, but the first during a global pandemic. Each game was its own session. Safety protocols and social distancing guidelines reduced seating from 11,500 to 1,900. All seats were reserved. On-line ticket sales were encouraged. Everything was sanitized repeatedly — from hands to baseballs to dugouts to clubhouses to hitting cages used as lockerrooms. Team pre-game and post-game routines were altered. 

It was worth it. 

Traditional powers were well represented, with Newman Catholic (24) Johnston (18) and Martensdale-St.Marys (17) leading the way in total appearances. Clear Creek Amana and Dike-New Hartford made their first-ever state tournament trips. And Urbandale, Van Meter and Newman were seeking repeat championships. 

Once the games began, we saw: 
    •    11 one-run games
    •    5 extra-inning games (tied record; 1980, 2009, 2013; none last year)
    •    5 walk-off wins
    •    2 eight-seeds upset one-seeds
    •    1 combined no-hitter
    •    2 one-hitters
    •    4 two-hitters
    •    1 player locked in the home dugout bathroom
    •    4 “sellouts” with social distancing requirements

Upsets? The 1A semifinals featured the 2, 5, 6 and 8 seeds. The 5 and 6 seeds made it to the 2A semifinals. Fifth-seeded Don Bosco won the 1A title, and sixth-seeded Des Moines Christian was the 2A runner-up. And while we’re talking about seeds, three-time defending state 1A champion Newman was a six seed — its lowest in 15 trips to Principal Park. (The Knights, of course, made the finals for the 13th time.)

Pitchers stood out, with Brody Brecht (16) of Ankeny and Blaine Harpenau (15 and 14) of Remsen St.Mary’s leading the way in single-game strikeouts. Seven other pitchers had 11 or more strikeouts in a game.

There were two home runs — both early in the tournament and early in their games. Cael Frost led off the game for Don Bosco in a win over South Winneshiek in the second game of the tournament. Max Burt was the Knights’ second batter of the game as Newman Catholic defeated St. Albert in the third game of the tournament on Saturday.

There were great games, outstanding individual performances, terrific comebacks and excruciating heartbreaks.

In the end, there were four state — and, we will argue, national — champions.

1A: Don Bosco — The fifth-seeded Dons won their second title, adding to their 1A title in the 1978 two-class tournament. 

2A: Van Meter — The top-seeded Bulldogs won their second straight title and third (2003) overall.

3A: Norwalk — The fourth-seeded Warriors won their third title, adding to those in 1982 and 2009.

4A: Johnston — The top-seeded Dragons won their fifth title, following those in 1977, 2008, 2013, 2017. (The Dragons won the 1977 1A title by defeating Bancroft St.John, MFL and Breda St.Bernard in the two-class tournament. The Dragons went 40-0 to win the 2008 title. There are 11 undefeated summer state champs overall.)


A POSTSCRIPT ON THE 2020 SEASON
On the ABCA podcast in late August, the state championship coaches discussed their seasons and COVID-19 protocols. The complete podcast is here. Here are excerpts from that podcast.

COVID-19 PROTOCOLS
Michael Barta, Johnston
We had 110 kids out for baseball at Johnston. That includes 12 coaches — a lot of those guys are volunteers — then you have all your personnel and managers and the people associated with your program. It’s like you have 125 or so people that are possibly in contact with your varsity players. You really have to be good at this.
One thing we talked about with our JV and varsity level, especially at the end of the year with the varsity level. You look at all these restrictions and it’s good sanitizing the ball and kids having their own helmet. All of those seemed like dealing with transferring by touching something somebody else has touched. We really looked at it like that’s probably a smaller chance of getting it that way.
We talked about creating the NBA bubble. I think we talked about it once a day for 15 minutes a day. I’m sure by the end of the year the kids were absolutely sick of it. A different coach would talk about everyday examples. It was a great example when other programs went down. That would be the greatest example of your passion being taken away from you.
We talked about how the kids in our room and the coaches in our room were the only people we are talking to besides our families. We sent some emails out to the parents. Hey, we don’t want our parents doing too much outside of the home because we want to keep the bubble with our baseball family.
We said “Hey, for the most part it’s four weeks. … I think we can create that bubble for that amount of time.” And they did. My kids told me all the time the only kids they hung out with were on the team. A couple of them broke off the relationship with the girlfriend because they were a little too social for them.
My kids committed to it and that was probably the most important piece on how we stayed safe.

THE STATE TOURNAMENT
Michael Barta, Johnston
I love seeing all the baseball in one centralized location. … It’s cool to have all the classes in Des Moines. Over the years I’ve loved watching all the different coaches and learning from them. 
The I-Cubs just do a phenomenal job … getting to see the locker rooms, playing on a big-league field that is groomed so perfectly. I think we’re really blessed.
The attendance thing (29,904 fans) … the state association and the I-Cubs really came together and put together a great plan on how to keep people safe and let them watch the games. They had people scattered all over the stadium and spaced out. My parents, who are both maybe at risk, felt pretty safe in the stadium. All in all, it was well put together.
Chad Wiedmann, Norwalk
It’s a beautiful place. It makes the state tournament that much more for our kids. Everybody’s attended a Cubs game there growing up and then get to walk through the locker rooms and out onto the field. It makes it a memorable experience.
As far as social distancing, they did a tremendous job. It showed they made an effort. … It was a great job by the athletic association and the I-Cubs.
Mike Kennedy, Van Meter
We’re in the business of giving kids experiences and memories that they’re not going to get potentially ever again. When you get the opportunity to go down to Principal Park, it’s a great opportunity and a great memory.
You saw what this meant to communities as well. You saw the numbers for attendance. People were ready for something like this and ready to rally around something after what we dealt with this spring.  
The I-Cubs understand that this is special for the kids and they do everything they possibly can to make sure these kids and their families have experiences that they’re going to cherish. 
Joel Schares, Don Bosco
The experience for the players is second to none. Our kids really enjoy it. The field conditions are unreal.
I’m really proud of our community for the way they showed up in force. They had to drive to Des Moines three times, it’s a two-hour trip for us.
It was just a lot of fun. … You just can’t beat playing down there.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Michael Barta, Johnston
This championship run was great because when you build that bubble, you become a lot closer as a group. I feel like our kids and our coaches were extremely close because of all the time we spent together. This will be a group that I will remember forever. This was my extended family for the summer.
Chad Wiedmann, Norwalk
This year taught us to be grateful for what we have. Back in the middle of May I didn’t think there was a chance that we were ever going to get to play. I feel very fortunate for our seniors. We had a great group of guys and I wasn’t sure how I was going to tell them they weren’t going to have the opportunity to play.
It just really reminds us the importance of baseball. It’s not just a game. It’s an avenue to teach kids and to bond with kids.
Mike Kennedy, Van Meter
This took a lot of work and it was really stressful to get here. At the same time, it took a whole lot of luck to be able to play until the end of the year. You didn’t know if the team across from you if something could happen. Throughout the year there were games stopped in the middle because they found out a team had COVID. There was no point of comfort. 
Joel Schares, Don Bosco
I guess you take it for granted that every year you’re going to have a baseball season, that you’re going to have wrestling, football, basketball, whatever it is.
Back in May I would have said it was probably 80-20 we weren’t going to have a baseball season. And then to have one, most coaches and kids realized how special it was. … The boys’ association, the girls’ union did a superb job of handling it. 
For us, it had been 42 years since we had brought home a state title. So to do this during a season when you weren’t sure you were going to have a season, it was pretty special.



MOST SUMMER STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS
11 — Assumption
9 — Kee
8 — Norway
8 — Newman Catholic
6 — Beckman Catholic
6 — Council Bluffs Thomas Jefferson
6 — Valley
5 — Dowling Catholic
5 — Marshalltown
5 — Spalding Catholic
5 — Johnston


MOST SUMMER STATE TOURNAMENT TRIPS
24 — Newman Catholic
19 — Kee
19 — Dowling Catholic
19 — Bishop Heelan Catholic
18 — Beckman Catholic
18 — Harlan
18 — Johnston
17 — Assumption
17 — Martensdale-St. Marys
16 — Cedar Rapids Kennedy
15 — Urbandale
15 — Council Bluffs Thomas Jefferson
15 — Bancroft St. John
14 — Norway
14 — Valley
14 — Dubuque Hempstead
14 — Ankeny
13 — Fort Dodge
13 — North Polk
13 — Remsen St.Mary’s


MOST STATE TOURNAMENT VICTORIES
38 — Assumption (38-6)
38 — Newman Catholic (38-16)
32 — Kee (32-10)
30 — Beckman Catholic (30-12)
24 — Johnston (24-13) 
23 — Harlan (23-15)
20 — Valley (20-7)
20 — Spalding Catholic (20-8)
20 — Dowling Catholic (20-15)
19 — Norway (19-7)


TOURNAMENT SEEDS = STATE CHAMPS
#1 seed = 35 titles
#2 seed = 8 titles
#3 seed = 4 titles
#4 seed = 7 titles
#5 seed = 5 titles
#6 seed = 5 titles
#7 seed = 0 titles
#8 seed = 0 titles
2005-2020 At Principal Park


2020 CHAMPIONS / SEEDS / RECORD
4A — #1 — Johnston (24-3)
3A — #4 — Norwalk (20-5)
2A — #1 — Van Meter (23-2)
1A — #5 — Don Bosco (20-1)


ATTENDANCE TOTALS AT PRINCIPAL PARK
2005 — 33,699
2006 — 28,035
2007 — 26,177
2008 — 33,155
2009 — 33,601
2010 — 30,488
2011 — 31,614
2012 — 29,555
2013 — 35,095
2014 — 34,428
2015 — 26,311
2016 — 29,153
2017 — 25,709
2018 — 27,533
2019 — 28,797
2020 — 29,904
Total — 483,254


8 SEEDS OVER 1 SEEDS AT STATE | PRINCIPAL PARK
2006 — Gehlen Catholic 3, Newman Catholic 2
2006 — Cedar Rapids Kennedy 7, Des Moines Lincoln 6
2014 — Johnston 8, Waukee 3
2016 — Solon 12, Wahlert Catholic 2 (six innings)
2018 — Cedar Rapids Washington 7,  Johnston 5
2020 — Kingsley-Pierson 3, Martensdale-St.Marys 2 (eight innings)
2020 — Marion 3, Sergeant Bluff-Luton 1

 

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