Jon Fitzpatrick returned to Van Meter on June 26.
But this time, the Bulldog baseball coach of the past two years led his new team, Martensdale-St. Marys, to the first-base dugout. The fifth-ranked Blue Devils scored once in the second and held on to beat second-ranked Van Meter 1-0.
"It was a little weird walking off the bus and walking to that dugout," said Fitzpatrick, whose two years in Van Meter were preceded by an assistant coaching stint at M-SM. "Not to say I’ve forgotten the years I was here, but I’ve moved on."
One thing he didn’t forget was Van Meter’s notoriously short fences. With two outs in the seventh, the Bulldogs’ Kurt Sankey nearly hit a game-winning two-run homer, but the ball was caught by right fielder Spencer Hoyka just in front of the fence, 250 feet from home plate.
"Coaching on this field, I know how it is," Fitzpatrick said. "You hold your breath for seven innings and hope one doesn’t sneak out of here."
Van Meter collected five hits against Eddy Kraber, but was 0-for-7 with runners on base. The bulldogs stranded two in the second inning.
"It came down to timely hitting, which we’d been getting all season and didn’t in this one game," said Van Meter coach Eric Trudo, who led the Bulldogs to the Class 1A state title in his first stint as coach in 2003.
Jake Eslick and Zach Prouty combined forces and surrendered just three hits and four walks. The lone run came in the second, when Dylan Gibson singled home Miller Hatcher. The throw one-hopped catcher Ben Engstrand.
The Bulldogs’ defense was otherwise sterling. Brandon Brittain made diving catches to end the third and seventh innings, and Drake Doud snagged a sinking liner to close out the fourth. All three grabs saved runs from scoring.
Brittain collected two of the team’s five hits, both singles. Engstrand, Ben Flaherty, and Jeremy Helmick accounted for the others.
Trudo, who is also the school’s football coach, is back in the saddle after five years away from baseball.
"I just wanted to help out the team," he said. "They were in a tough spot without a coach in March, and I just wanted to help out any way I could whether that was as assistant, head, whatever it was."
The Bulldogs, who open district play July 16 against either Southeast Webster-Grand or Woodward Academy, won 14 of their first 15 games this season and held a 25-5 record.
"I think we’re just focused on not falling into a lull and staying sharp over these final two weeks," Trudo said. "That’s always challenging over a long season. That’s the goal: not to be peaking on June 26 against Martensdale, but to be peaking in the third and fourth weeks of July."
After a 6-5 loss at Woodward-Granger on June 27, in which the Hawks scored three runs in the final two innings, the Bulldogs got back on the board with a 6-1 win at Des Moines Christian on June 28 and a 12-7 victory against Interstate 35 in the Prange Classic in Bondurant on June 29.
Flaherty drove in two runs against the Lions, while Ross Wesselmann had two hits and Brittain scored three runs. Prouty earned the win, allowing one run on two hits over three innings.
Colton Boswell struck out eight against the Roadrunners and helped his own cause with three runs scored. Flaherty was 3-for-3 with a double and three RBIs, Engstrand scored twice and Helmick and Eslick each drove in two.
The Bulldogs also blanked Guthrie Center 15-0 on Monday, getting eight runs in the first and seven runs in the third. Ben Flaherty homered and drove in five and Brittain had three RBIs.