Principal Park will welcome thousands to the Iowa State Baseball Tournament, starting this weekend and going through next week. The top baseball teams from around the state gather in Des Moines and try to win three games to become champions.
I've been away from high school baseball for 10 years, when I threw my last pitch in 2001 for the Decorah Vikings. As I've immersed myself back into the high school game this summer in northwest Iowa, I've seen some good teams and some very good players.
Not every good team makes it to state and not every great player can lead their team to state. However, the teams that are making the trip certainly can say they earned it, despite the fact that all district and substate brackets are not equally challenging.
Play started Friday with 2A action. No. 1 seed Kuemper Catholic of Carroll has looked very formidable this season. At 37-1, they are the clear favorite in 2A. They defeated Lawton-Bronson, one of the best hitting teams I personally saw this season, 12-0 in five innings in the Substate final.
Locally, Alta-Aurelia earned the No. 7 seed in 2A after knocking off Spirit Lake in Substate and will play Davis County. Alta-Aurelia is 30-4 on the year and had one of the best regular seasons in NW Iowa.
Class 1A, which starts Monday afternoon, begins and ends with Martensdale-St. Marys. With its win in Substate, the Blue Devils won their 84th consecutive game to set a national record. They are the defending 1A champs and have added more players this season. While Newman Catholic and Lansing Kee consistently produce solid teams, and are seeded two and three respectively this year, it will be very hard to beat "M-St.-M".
Storm Lake is seeded fourth in class 3A and is making its third consecutive trip to Des Moines. They will open against Marion on Tuesday, July 26 at noon. Storm Lake is the state-bound team I saw play most this season.
The Tornadoes defeated Bishop Heelan in Substate because they believed they were going to win. A winning program doesn't happen overnight, and Storm Lake's coach Bill McCabe has been doing it for a long time. With his son, Michael, now a senior, McCabe's team expected to make it to state again this year. Add the Andersons, Carsen and Luke, along with a few other all-conference and all-district players, and it's clear how Storm Lake made it back to the state tournament.
With a win over Marion, Storm Lake would face No. 1 seed Solon (36-4) in the semifinals. (Unless Solon gets tripped up by 15-24 Waukon.) The Tornadoes will be representing the Lakes Conference at the state tournament this year, and based on what I saw this season, they are worthy of the distinction.
I haven't seen much 4A baseball this year but the tournament looks to have some typical heavyweights involved. Dowling Catholic is the No. 1 seed and Cedar Rapids Kennedy is No. 2. Class 4A, because of school size, generally features the largest collection of talented players. No question there will be some good games and players involved again this year.
While I'm looking ahead to the baseball state tournament, I still followed an impressive week at state softball. Fort Dodge hosted some amazing teams and players this week. Both sporting events are great entertainment and feature the best in the state playing for a championship.
Iowa does things a little differently than other states by having baseball and softball in the summer. I liked it when I played and I like it now. The Iowa State Baseball and Softball Tournaments: An Iowa Summer Tradition.
Good luck and good job to all state-bound teams. And congratulations to the champions crowned in softball.