Tonight when the clock strikes 7 p.m., the Van Meter baseball team will officially begin their third straight trip to the state tournament.
After seven district and conference crowns, the Bulldogs will be seeking another strong run at Principal Park as a two seed, the second time in three straight seasons that Van Meter has earned such a seed. The last time the Bulldogs were a number two seed was back in 2017 when they had a similar record heading into the state tournament at 30-4.
The Bulldogs enter their third straight trip and int the 2019 edition with a 31-3 record. They are one of two West Central Activities Conference teams in the field of eight alongside Des Moines Christian. The Lions are the only team in the Class 2A state field whom the Bulldogs have faced, going 2-0.
This may be their third straight trip to the state tournament but the importance of it and the pressure of it all is far from lost on the Van Meter roster.
“It’s a big stage no doubt and while we’d like to say we’re experienced by this time, there are still guys who haven’t been to state before,” began head coach Eben Baumhover. “The goal of this team is to win a state title and in order to do that, we can’t overlook a team and act like we’re going to win. We have to do the little things well and we have to do them consistently just like we have been all season long.”
In the two prior straight trips to the state tournament, the Bulldogs have combined to hit .224 at the plate with 17 total hits. The last time the Bulldogs were a second seed the fell in the tournament opener to the eventual runner-up and for those who are still around from that game, it’s a point of emphasis they are trying to avoid.
“This program has been humbled before in the state tournament,” said Baumhover. “That’s one thing we’ve really stressed to the guys this year, we can’t overlook anybody especially at the state tournament. Teams at the state tournament know how to take advantage of little things that can eventually have a huge impact on the game. We’ve been successful this entire year by that model but it can all be undone if we are not 100 percent focused.”
The Bulldogs will be taking on seventh-seeded Underwood, a team that comes into Principal Park with a record of 26-4. The Eagles will be making just their second-ever trip to the state baseball tournament, their first-ever as a Class 2A team. In similar fashion to Van Meter, Underwood comes in averaging 9.3 hits and 8.8 runs per game. As has been the mindset all season, seeding or record has no effect on how the Bulldogs approach every game, with the mindset to win. The seventh-seeded is deceiving for an Eagles team who ranks second in the Class 2A field in doubles on the season (69) with the consistent power to continually back up their play as evident by their .475 slugging percentage, third-best in Class 2A and top six across all state tournament teams.
Van Meter, of course, has held their own ranking third in the Class 2A field in hits (315) while leading the pack in triples with 15 on the year. The Bulldogs are also good at hitting doubles as over 20 percent of their total hits have come in the form of doubles. On the mound, Van Meter has also been quite effective ranking third in the Class 2A state tournament field with 781 strikeouts. Van Meter pitching has allowed just 139 hits all season long. On the other side, the Bulldogs are playing an Eagles team who has given up 151 hits this season, something coach Baumhover is looking to attack.
“Underwood is a good team and they’ve had good pitching to complement their offense,” said Baumhover. “If we can get out of the gates hot early on, we have a good chance of running their pitch counts way up and causing a lot of problems for them. That, of course, is dependent on how well we recognize the pitch and hit the ball altogether.”
Even with the strong pitching and excellent hitting, the key to the game as mentioned by Baumhover himself is how well the Bulldogs perform on the base paths.
“When you get to state, everyone can hit the ball well and everyone can pitch the ball well,” began Baumhover. “You’ve got to find a way to grab an edge and the best way that we’ve been able to do that is through great base running. When we have had the most success is when we can take a base here and there which compounds as the game goes on. What would have been a one-run single now turns into a two-run single and so forth. “
Van Meter and Underwood will take center stage as the prime time game tonight, something that has first-year head coach Eben Baumhover quite excited.
“It’s definitely different being a head coach for sure,” began Baumhover. “I have the final say in things and I’m the one who directs things. It’s still an amazing feeling making it to state as a coach of any type. To have the game be the final one of the day in front of the lights, I gotta say I don’t know of any better way to start the tournament.”
First pitch between the Bulldogs and the Eagles is set for 7 p.m. tonight from Principal Park.