We tried to do the impossible. Start with 390 state tournament games at Principal Park and pick 10 favorites. Lots of underdogs and upsets and extra-inning games. Thrilling victories. Heart-breaking defeats. One thing is clear: It’s been 14 years of great tournament baseball. Enjoy. [Note: Includes 2018 state tournament.]
North Polk 2, Albia 1
A state tournament game with everything on the line. Full of drama, tension and great plays. How would it end? When would it end?
It took 13 innings and 3 hours 35 minutes — both state tournament records at Principal Park. The teams combined for 18 hits, but only three runs.
Second-seeded North Polk scored one run in the top of the 13th and held on to beat seventh-seeded Albia 2-1 in the final Class 2A first-round game.
Albia runners were thrown out at home plate five times — twice in the sixth inning, and once each in the 10th, 12th and 13th innings.
The Blue Demons scored their only run in the bottom of the first, and North Polk tied the game with a run in the fourth. Eight scoreless innings followed.
North Polk broke through in the top half of the 13th. Clay Cory led off the inning with a double to right-center and beat out a play at third when Austin Hillebo laid down a sacrifice bunt. Grant Schiltz did the rest, driving a high fly ball to center field for a sacrifice fly to give the Comets a 2-1 lead.
Gabe Gravert hit a one-out triple down the left field line in the bottom of the 13th for Albia. He was then called out on a play at the plate after Griffin Osing hit a grounder to shortstop. Second-ranked North Polk would get the final out at 11:40 p.m. and advance to the semifinals. Albia finished 24-17.
The game tied the all-time state tournament record for most innings played. (Kee defeated Bancroft St. John’s 4-3 in 13 innings in the 1980 state championship game.)
The rest of the story — North Polk defeated Kuemper Catholic 6-2 in the semifinals, then fell to Beckman Catholic 2-1 in the title game. The Comets finished 31-5.
North Polk 2, Davis County 1
In related news, another favorite — Pinch hitter Wyatt Johnson drove in Wyatt Houge with a two-out single to left for the game-winning run and sent North Polk past defending champion Davis County 2-1 in the semifinals. It was Johnson’s second hit and RBI of the season.
Tied 1-1 in the sixth, North Polk pitcher Grant Lang faked a pickoff throw to second and his middle defense acted as though the throw had gotten away into centerfield. The runner broke quickly for third base, but was easily thrown out by Lang — who had the ball in his hand the whole time. That swung momentum the Comets’ way.
The rest of the story — Beckman Catholic defeated North Polk 3-1 in the finals. The Comets finished 31-5.
North Polk 7, Maple Valley-Anthon-Oto 1
In related news, another favorite — Cole Jackson fired a no-hitter and struck out 15 in the top-ranked North Polk Comets’ 7-1 win over the Maple Valley-Anthon-Oto Rams in the 2A quarterfinals.
The rest of the story — North Polk defeated Heart of Iowa Conference rival Roland-Story 6-2 in the semifinals and then blanked Beckman Catholic 2-0 in the finals. It was the third straight year those teams met in the championship game, with North Polk winning for the first time. The Comets finished 32-5.
Iowa City West 6, Des Moines Roosevelt 5
Guy in the press box: “Did he just hit a walk-off home run?”
Yes. He. Did. And he crushed it.
The Iowa City West Trojans posted a 6-5 victory over the Des Moines Roosevelt Roughriders thanks to a three-run walk-off homer by freshman Jason Strunk in the Class 4A semifinal-round nightcap. Strunk finished the night 2-for-4 with two runs scored and three RBIs.
Down to its last out and trailing 5-3, West had two runners on as Strunk stepped up to the plate. After taking a strike looking, Strunk blasted the next pitch onto the roof of the skyboxes in left field for a three-run walk-off homer. The single best moment in state tournament history at Principal Park? Maybe.
Video: Walk-off three-run homer
Video: Another look
The rest of the story — Cedar Rapids Prairie defeated Iowa City West 12-3 in the championship game. The Trojans finished 35-7.
2017: Iowa City West 12, Cedar Rapids Washington 2
In related news, another favorite —Third-seeded Iowa City West defeated sixth-seeded Cedar Rapids Washington 12-2 in six innings in a Class 4A quarterfinal game that started Wednesday night and ended Thursday morning. In a day filled with long rain delays, the game started at 10:39 p.m. and ended at 12:43 a.m.
It was the latest-ending game in state tournament history at Principal Park. The previous latest game was in 2005, when Cedar Rapids Xavier defeated Western Dubuque 8-2 in a Class 3A quarterfinal. That game ended at 12:34 a.m.
The rest of the story — Dowling Catholic defeated Iowa City West 8-3 in the semifinals. West finished 32-9.
2014: Iowa City West 7, Johnston 6
In related news, another favorite — The Iowa City West Trojans scored six runs in the bottom of the seventh inning, defeating the Johnston Dragons, 7-6, in the Class 4A semifinals Friday night.
Eighth-seeded Johnston had scored four runs in the top of the sixth and took a 6-1 lead into the bottom of the seventh — and the defending state champs were just three outs away from a second straight trip to the 4A title game. But West pushed across six runs on four hits, one error, three walks, a hit batter, a catcher’s interference call and a wild pitch for the amazing comeback win.
The rest of the story — Southeast Polk defeated Iowa City West 2-0 in the championship game. West finished 34-10.
Remsen St. Mary’s 5, Newman Catholic 3
Top-ranked and top-seeded Newman Catholic took a 3-1 lead into the seventh inning, and it looked like the Knights would win the semifinal-round game and advance to the Class 1A finals for the fifth straight year. Not so fast, my friend.
Unranked Remsen St. Mary’s scored four runs in the top of the seventh inning to upset defending champion Newman Catholic 5-3. It was the Knights’ first loss to a 1A team since the 2014 title game.
Down to its last three outs, St. Mary’s rallied. Brady Portz ripped a double over the right fielder’s head to get things going, and Carter Kuchel and Derrick Schorg managed consecutive walks to load the bases. A fielder’s choice from Brady Harpenau knocked in a run and shortly after, the game was tied on a fielder’s choice ground ball from Jacob Wesselmann. The Hawks scored two more with two outs to take the lead, scoring on an RBI triple from RJ Staab and an RBI single by Connor Clark.
The Hawks retired the Knights 1-2-3 in the bottom of the seventh to complete the upset. Newman finished 33-6.
The rest of the story — St. Mary’s met War Eagle Conference rival West Sioux in the championship game. They met twice in the regular season — including the season opener for both teams — and West Sioux won both. St. Mary’s won the title showdown 8-5 for its fourth state championship, adding to titles won in 1983-84-85. RSM finished 33-5. West Sioux finished 27-3.
2010: Remsen St. Mary’s 9, Newman Catholic 8
In related news, another favorite — The Remsen St. Mary’s Hawks put up four runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to come all the way back to defeat the top-seeded Mason City Newman Catholic Knights 9-8 in a Class 1A semifinal. The Knights took an early 7-1 lead after the top of the third. RSM starting pitcher Tanner Kockler went the distance, throwing 185 pitches to push his record on the year to 11-0.
Second-ranked Newman finished the season with a 35-3 record. Its previous losses were to 4A teams Cedar Falls and Mason City.
The rest of the story — In the most confusing title game match-up ever, Martensdale-St. Marys defeated Remsen St. Mary’s 3-0. The Blue Devils (43-0) scored all their runs in the top of the first inning. It was the second state title for MSTM — the first came in 2004 — and the first of three straight (2010, 11, 12). The Hawks finished 26-9.
Martensdale-St. Marys 2, English Valleys 1
Upset of the century? Almost. Top-ranked and undefeated Martensdale-St. Marys scored the winning run with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning to escape heavy underdog English Valleys 2-1 in the first game of the 2011 state tournament. MSTM took an all-time national best 84-game winning streak into the Class 1A first-round game, while EV was just 9-15. (The Bears entered postseason play at 5-15.)
But Goliath won this one, and Martensdale-St. Marys (41-0) extended its winning streak to 85 straight games with the walk-off win.
EV won the pre-game coin toss and elected to be the visiting team for the game — the Bears had been the visiting team in all four of their district and substate tournament games — and most “experts” thought that meant the game would end a half-inning early.
But the Bears scored in the top of the first inning as Wes Warwick ripped a lead-off double and scored on an error for a 1-0 EV lead. The Bears held MSTM scoreless for three innings before the Blue Devils pushed across an unearned run in the bottom of the fourth to tie the game at 1-1.
It stayed that way until the bottom of the seventh. After a walk, a stolen base and two strikeouts, David Walker worked a full-count before he lined the game-winning base hit into right field.
MSTM starter JD Nielsen pitched three innings and allowed an unearned run on two hits. He walked one and struck out seven. Nielsen and TJ Foster strung together 15 strikeouts through 17 batters in the game, including eight in a row by Foster. Ethan Westphal (12-0) added two strikeouts in the seventh and got the win in relief.
The rest of the story — MSTM had to rally in its semifinal game as well, trailing Coon Rapids-Bayard 3-2 after six innings. The Blue Devils scored three runs in the top of the seventh for a 5-3 lead. CRB scored once in the bottom of the seventh and had runners on second and third when a groundout ended the game for the 5-4 final. MSTM trailed 3-2 early in the championship game, but defeated Kee 8-3 for its second straight state title.
The streak — MSTM would extend its streak to 88 games — then the longest in the nation — before losing in the second game of the 2012 season. The Blue Devils went on to win their third straight 1A title that season.
Iowa leaders for consecutive wins
88 — Martensdale-St. Marys, 2010-12
59 — Kee, 1991-92
58 — Wilton, 2005-06
54 — Davis County, 2011-12
47 — Solon, 2010-11
Pleasantville 5, West Sioux 4
North Linn 6, Van Buren 3
Two Class 1A first-round games had the spotlight on a Saturday night and didn’t disappoint. The top half of the bracket played on Friday night, paving the way for a dramatic double-header, with both tension-packed games decided in extra innings.
In the opener, Pleasantville defeated West Sioux 5-4 in nine innings. West Sioux scored twice in the top of the seventh for a 4-3 lead. The Trojans tied the game in the bottom of the inning on a single and a double, with the potential winning run thrown out trying to stretch the double into a triple for the first out.
In the bottom of the ninth, Pleasantville scored the game-winning run on a walk, a single, a sac fly and an error.
Then — in a game that featured three lead changes and two ties — seventh-seeded North Linn clipped previously undefeated Van Buren 6-3 in eight innings. The second-seeded and second-ranked Warriors had won 29 straight.
With the score 2-2 in the top of the seventh inning, North Linn got a two-out RBI single from Ryan Miller to put the Lynx up 3-2. Van Buren countered with two outs in the bottom of the inning as Will Martens rapped a game-tying RBI double off the left field wall.
In the top of the eighth, a suicide squeeze bunt by Jake Hilmer broke the tie for the Lynx, who added two more runs on a dropped infield pop fly. Van Buren had one more gasp in the bottom of the eighth, getting a one-out triple from Brandon Plecker, but Hilmer retired the next two batters to close out the game.
Hilmer — an eighth-grader — improved to 13-2 on the year, going 8.0 innings while allowing three runs, two earned on six hits and five walks. He struck out six on the mound while also going 1-for-2 with a team-high two RBIs and two runs.
The rest of the story — Pleasantville defeated North Linn 6-3 in the semifinals, then fell to Newman Catholic 10-0 in the title game. The final records of our teams: West Sioux (25-5), Van Buren (29-1), North Linn (35-11), Pleasantville (35-4), Newman (39-4).
2018: Lisbon 4, North Linn 2
In related news, another favorite — The Lisbon Lions continued their undefeated season behind the arm of Austin Krob, rallying past North Linn in the 1A semifinals. It was the third meeting this season between the Tri-Rivers Conference rivals, and the Lions needed a three-run sixth inning to win. North Linn loaded the bases in the top of the seventh, but didn’t score. The Lynx finished 41-4.
The rest of the story — Newman Catholic defeated Lisbon 9-5 in the title game. The Knights finished 40-1. Lisbon finished 36-1.
Lenox 2, Calamus-Wheatland 0
What’s not to like as two top pitchers engage in a scoreless battle through eight innings? Then a big gamble pays off in the top of the ninth as Lenox defeated Calamus-Wheatland 2-0 in the first round the Class 1A state tournament.
Lenox scored on a suicide squeeze double play in the top of the ninth to break a scoreless tie. The game featured a terrific pitchers’ duel between Lenox sophomore Ethan Westphal and Calamus-Wheatland junior Ryan Powers.
Westphal struck out 15 and allowed just four hits to move his record to 13-0. Powers (10-2) fired a three-hitter and fanned seven. Westphal faced just 33 batters and Powers 35.
In the top of the ninth, Lenox got a lead-off walk, a passed ball, an intentional walk, a double steal and another intentional walk to load the bases with no outs. Robert Brown laid down a suicide squeeze bunt, with Tyler Peterson scoring from third for a 1-0 lead. But the Warriors got Brown out at first, and Connor Lange out at home for the 1-3-2 double play. Then Jordan Reed followed with an RBI single for the 2-0 margin.
Westphal — who had allowed just two earned runs all season — didn't allow a run of any kind in the bottom of the ninth to seal the win.
Calamus-Wheatland was making its first state tournament appearance since Calamus finished second to West Des Moines Valley in 1955. The Warriors ended the season at 18-10.
The rest of the story — Lenox was making its fourth straight state tournament appearance at Principal Park and eighth overall. The Tigers — the 2006 state champs — and their 10-man roster defeated Kee 11-3 in the semifinals before losing to Newman Catholic 11-1 in the finals. Lenox finished at 23-4; Newman at 37-1.
2007: Iowa Mennonite School 2, Lenox 1
In related news, another favorite — Darrell Borntrager cracked a single down the left field line to score Ryan Bontrager and give Iowa Mennonite a 2-1 comeback win over defending state champion Lenox in the 1A quarterfinals. Reggie Hochstedler got the win and 14 strikeouts.
Lenox scored in the bottom of the first inning, but IMS posted runs in the sixth and seventh innings for its first-ever state tournament win.
The rest of the story — IMS defeated Coon Rapids-Bayard 8-0 in the semifinals and Remsen St. Mary’s 10-0 in the finals. IMS finished 28-3 and won the state title in its first state tournament appearance.
2008: Iowa Mennonite School 12, Gehlen Catholic 0
In related news, another favorite — Reggie Hochstedler fired a no-hitter and struck out nine to power defending state champion Iowa Mennonite School past LeMars Gehlen 12-0 in five innings in a Class 1A quarterfinal that ended at 11:50 p.m.
The 10:17 p.m. starting time — rain forced a delay in the start of the first game of the night — was late for many, but the top-ranked IMS bats were wide awake. Iowa Mennonite took hold in the top of the first and did not look back.
Seventh-seeded Gehlen ended its season at 22-11.
The rest of the story — IMS fell to North Sentral Kossuth 6-0 in the semifinals and finished 31-2 . NSK defeated Don Bosco 6-0 in the championship game.
2005: Valley 8, Ankeny 6
It was a great atmosphere for high school baseball. A record crowd of 5,488 was on hand for the Class 4A state championship game on a picture-perfect Saturday night, capping the first year of the state tournament at Principal Park.
Valley captured its fifth state title in school history with a come-from-behind victory over Ankeny. The Tigers won 8-6 after trailing 5-2 — scoring two runs in the bottom of the third and four in the bottom of the sixth. The Hawks threatened in the top of the seventh with a HBP, two singles and an error, but scored just one run. Valley finished 38-3 on the season and claimed the 4A title for the third year in a row. Ankeny ended at 39-7.
The rest of the story — In 2006, Valley won its fourth straight state title by outscoring its three state tournament opponents 39-1.
2006: Gehlen Catholic 3, Newman Catholic 2
The first time the eight seed defeated the one seed was a stunner. LeMars Gehlen Catholic scored single runs in the second, third and fourth innings to win the tournament opener in a 9 a.m. Saturday start for the Class 1A teams.
Gehlen started postseason play with a losing record. Top-ranked Newman ended with a record of 34-6, having lost to a 1A team for the first time that season.
The rest of the story — Gehlen lost to Sentral 9-8 in the semifinals as the Spartans scored thee runs in the bottom of the seventh. Lenox then defeated Sentral for the 1A state title. Gehlen finished the season at 18-15.
2006: Cedar Rapids Kennedy 7, Des Moines Lincoln 6
Cedar Rapids Kennedy scored four runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to knock off top-seeded and 10th-ranked Des Moines Lincoln in Class 4A. The Railsplitters ended at 32-7.
The rest of the story — Kennedy defeated Davenport Central 7-5 in the semifinals, then lost to Valley 13-0 in the finals. It was the fourth straight state title for the Tigers. Kennedy finished 24-20.
2014: Johnston 8, Waukee 3
The 8 vs. 1 upset wouldn’t happen again until 2014 when Johnston defeated Waukee 8-3 in a Class 4A game. The second-ranked Warriors had won both regular-season meetings.
Waukee took a 2-0 lead after two innings, but a six-run third inning fueled Johnston to the upset victory. The Dragons broke things open in the third inning, sending 12 batters to the plate and scoring six runs. Waukee was just 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position; Johnston was 6-for-13 in the same category.
The Warriors finished the season with a 35-5 record.
The rest of the story — Johnston fell to Iowa City West 7-6 in the semifinals and finished with a 23-17 record. Southeast Polk then defeated West 2-0 for the 4A title.
2016 — Solon 12, Wahlert Catholic 2 (six innings)
Although Solon started postseason play with a losing record and was just 21-20 heading into the state tournament, the Spartans weren’t your average 8 seed. And they proved it with an easy 12-2 win over Wahlert Catholic in six innings in a Tuesday afternoon Class 3A game.
Solon pounded out 14 hits, and limited Wahlert to just two. The Spartans had leads of 4-0 and 4-2 before scoring four runs each in the fifth and sixth innings.
The Golden Eagles ended at 29-15.
The rest of the story — Harlan defeated Solon 7-5 in the semifinals and Carlisle 12-4 in the finals for the 3A state title. Solon finished its season at 22-21.
2018: Cedar Rapids Washington 7, Johnston 5
Draeden Spang smashed a pinch-hit bases clearing triple in the fifth inning to help Cedar Rapids Washington upset top-ranked and top-seeded Johnston in Class 4A. Johnston finished at 34-6.
The rest of the story — Washington rallied past fourth-seeded Valley 5-4 in the semifinals — scoring four runs in the top of the seventh — before falling to second-seeded Urbandale 3-0 in the finals. The Warriors finished 27-18.
2013: Clear Lake 5, Chariton 4
One of those “it’s not over until it’s over” games. It really seemed like this game was over, but it wasn’t until the Lions said it was.
Clear Lake scored four runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to upset third-seeded Chariton 5-4 in a Class 3A first-round thriller on a Tuesday night. Sophomore Brandon Tofte smacked a walk-off, bases-clearing triple over the right fielder with two outs to give the Lions the win.
Chariton took a 4-1 lead into the bottom of the seventh. The Chargers got an out, and still led 4-2 with two outs ... until the three-run triple ignited a Clear Lake celebration on the field and in the stands — and stunned the Chargers.
Here is how the inning went for the Lions: walk, balk, strikeout, stolen base, RBI single, fielder’s choice, double, intentional walk, bases-loaded triple. Game over.
The loss ended the Chargers’ season at 35-6.
The rest of the story — Clear Lake — the sixth seed — went on to defeat Harlan 7-2 in the semifinals and Assumption 6-2 in the finals to win the title. Assumption out-hit Clear Lake 14-5, but three double plays gave the Lions (38-3) their first state title. Clear Lake would add 2A state titles in 2015 and 2016.
2009: Boone 12, Chariton 0
In related news, another favorite — Without intentionally piling on Chariton .... the Chargers were on the wrong end of the only perfect game at Principal Park. Left-hander Blane Reutter threw five innings of perfect baseball, leading top-seeded Boone to a 12-0 victory in the first game of the Class 3A state tournament. Reutter (11-0) struck out seven of the 15 batters he faced. The Chargers brought a 15-17 record into the state tournament.
The rest of the story — Boone lost to Norwalk 4-2 in the semifinals. Norwalk went on to defeat Storm Lake 7-0 in the championship game.
2005: Kee 14, Walnut 5
No one was sure what to expect when the high school state baseball tournament moved from Marshalltown and Carroll to Des Moines. Here is what was waiting for the first-ever state tournament game at Principal Park — 106-degree temperatures and a heat index of 119 — for a noon start on a Saturday.
Top-ranked Kee pounded out 18 hits and defeated Walnut 14-5 in the 1A first-round game, which lasted 2 hours 18 minutes. Walnut — wearing all-black uniforms — finished at 24-7.
The next game that session — West Harrison vs. North Mahaska — was scheduled to start at 2 p.m. It started at 3, and it was a reminder that baseball runs on its own schedule.
The rest of the story — Legendary coach Gene Schultz and Kee went on to win the 1A title, defeating North Mahaska 8-0 in the semifinals and Spalding Catholic 10-0 in the finals. The Hawks finished 42-3 after winning their final 28 games. It was the 16th of 19 state tournament appearances for Kee ... and its ninth state championship. It was the fourth and last state tournament appearance for Walnut, now part of AHSTW.
A LITTLE BIT ABOUT OUR LIST
We’ve compiled a list of our 10 favorite state tournament games at Principal Park. Some disclaimers:
• They’re not the 10 best games, or the 10 most outstanding team or individual performances, but 10 memorable games — for a variety of reasons. SPOILER ALERT: We like underdogs and upsets and walk-offs.
• And they’re not even 10 games — 20+ games are on the list.
• We? Well, the list is really just the opinion of one guy who has seen all the games — not every pitch, but almost — since the state tournament moved to Principal Park in 2005.
• Is there bias? Probably. We won’t pretend otherwise.
• Is this a shameless stunt to drive traffic to the web site? Probably.
• And — with 390 tournament games at Principal Park — we’ve probably forgotten some good ones.
All that aside, we hope you enjoy this list.
TWO FINAL NOTES
• A reminder: These were one guy’s favorite games. Not the most outstanding team or individual performances. Just some memorable games.
• No disrespect was meant to the losing teams on our list. Making it to the state tournament is a tremendous accomplishment. And it takes two teams to make a great game.