All season long, Davis County has been looking for a repeat.
The state obliged the Mustangs in a way on Tuesday night hours after the team qualified for its third straight state baseball tournament.
For the second straight year, Davis County earned the No. 2 seed in the Class 2A state tournament. For the second straight year, that seed earned Davis County a 6 p.m. Saturday night date at Principal Park in Des Moines.
And, for the second straight year, Davis County will meet Alta-Auerilia in that state quarterfinal contest. If the goal of this season has been to relive the state championship run of last year, Todd White’s squad is off to a good start with their state tournament opener.
“Our preparation is going to be very similar to what we’ve done in the past,” White said. “I think that’s going to be very critical to getting the kids acclimated quickly to the bigger ballpark and all the surroundings. The familiarity certainly shouldn’t hinder us in any way.”
The opponent, time and place are the same, but these are two different teams meeting in 2A’s third quarterfinal contest. Davis County arrives in Des Moines for the state baseball tournament tonight that has experienced a lot in the past two years.
In their first trip to state in 2010, the Mustangs were experiencing state tournament play for the first time ever. Last year, the Mustangs were experiencing playing for a state title for the first time ever. This year, Davis County is experiencing what it’s like to be the team to beat as a top-ranked defending state champ.
“Everyone knows what we’re back here for,” senior Josh Martsching said. “Everyone’s back looking to win a state title. Everyone expects us to be here.”
The Mustangs have had familiar elements to this postseason as last year’s run to the program’s first state title. Davis County’s road to Des Moines included a win in Mount Pleasant, which the Mustangs got last year in a 10-0 district final triumph over Winfield-Mount Union/WACO. This year, in the substate final, Davis County beat Wapello, who hosted the Mustangs’ 8-1 substate final victory over Iowa City Regina last year.
But unlike the past runs to state, Davis County has approached every game and every win in this postseason with a calm business-like demeanor. So far this postseason, the Mustangs have played like a team that expects to win.
“We just kind of keep checking goals off our sheet as we go along,” White said. “They all have fun and enjoy playing ball with one another, but they have that goal in the back of their minds they’ve been striving for all season (to win another state title).”
Unlike last year when they provided the Mustangs with a rated opponent to open the state tournament, Alta-Auerila struggled early on this season, losing five of their first six games before their offense powered the way to 13 straight wins as the Warriors scored 10 or more runs in 11 of those victories.
One of the main differences for Alta-Auerila this year is their lack of a standout top starting pitcher, a role 10-1 senior Christian Weiland provided the Warriors with last season. This year, seniors Jaden Holton (6-3) and Austin Delp (5-4) have been trying to establish themselves as aces of Alta-Auerila.
“They’ve got some kids that have stepped up to do things with the bats and have a couple of similar pitchers,” White said. “There are just a lot of uncertainties when it comes to scouting them right now.”
Alta-Auerila, meanwhile, knows all about the danger Davis County provides both on the mound and at the plate. Calvin Mathews, the Mustangs leader in home runs (11) and ERA (0.70), shut out the Warriors, 8-0, in last year’s state quarterfinal while also crushing a mammoth first-inning homer onto the roof of Principal Park’s left-field box seats and restaurant.
Mathews, however, enters state tournament play hitless in his last eight at-bats. That hasn’t stopped the Mustangs from producing runs, as several players have stepped up to helped Davis County score 35 runs in three postseason wins.
“People on the bench all do their part,” senior Josey Garmon said after collecting five hits with three doubles and a home run in district and substate postseason. “Whether we need them to come out and run, they go a great job baserunning. When they need to come up with a hit, everyone does a great job making contact and getting on base.”
“We’ve been in some tight games this year and had to do some different things to get wins,” White added. “I think that’s going to prepare us well for what we’ll see at state.”
All season long, Davis County has been looking for a repeat.
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