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A familiar road to follow for Van Meter baseball at state

Andrew Brown - Sports Reporter
Van Meter's Anthony Potthoff pitches during a home game earlier this season. PHOTO BY ANDREW BROWN/DALLAS COUNTY NEWS

Just a matter of hours remain until the Van Meter baseball team embark upon their fourth straight and ninth overall state tournament appearance in program history.

The Bulldogs will take on the Class 2A state tournament as the top seed for the first time in their recent four-year run. It’s been quite the path to get to the hallowed grounds of Principal Park. Just like every team in the state, the Bulldogs had to endure the worry of simply having a season followed by the challenges that would come under the flag of COVID-19.

“Just to be able to have a season was huge in itself,” said senior and future DMACC baseball player Anthony Potthoff. “It was different for sure but once we as a team knew the season was on, we knew we’d have to work just as hard this year to make it back to Principal.”

With that said, very few teams can say they parallelled Van Meter’s success for the 2020 season. The Bulldogs were one of just four Class 2A teams in 2020 to suffer two losses or less and the only team in the class to capture 20 checks in the win column.

“As a program, the goal and expectations have changed over the course of the last seven to eight years,” began Bulldog co-head coach Mike Kennedy. Especially for this group of seniors who have been through a lot and what it takes to be successful at a high level.”

Van Meter has been a team to never overlook any opponent and has had their sights set on a title run ever since wrapping up their second overall summer title in program history. There has been a certain level that has been the bar for Van Meter over the past several seasons that have helped keep that success level high.

“In the substate final, our celebration as a team might not have been a the level you might think for a team making it to state but I think that reflects that the kids, while happy to be there, have higher aspirations.”

As the Bulldogs push for a second straight title, their sights on perhaps one of their toughest quarterfinal opponents at a state tournament. It may be just the fifth-ever meeting between the two teams, but Van Meter’s showdown with the Cardinals of Treynor will be anything but a simple one vs eight seed match-up. Treynor has seemingly had Van Meter’s number over the series, capturing victory over the Bulldogs in three out of the prior four-match-ups. That included their 2020 battle where Treynor became one of just two teams who found the formula to defeat Van Meter. It’s as daunting of a one vs. eight seed state tournament as a match-up like that can get, but one that Van Meter isn’t backing away from.

“We welcome in the tougher competition,” began Potthoff. “It’s not fun facing a team that we’ll ten-run rule but facing a team like Treynor, we know we’ll have our hands full. They are a good team and we can’t wait to face them again.”

Similar to Van Meter, Treynor has been able to hit for power fairly often as 31 percent of their overall hit total has been contained in extra-base hits. Once on the base paths, the Cardinals have been pretty stingy, similar to the Bulldogs, in fact very similar to the Bulldogs as both teams enter the state tournament with 45 swiped bases on the year. From there on out lies a discernable difference in favor of the Bulldogs and it is showcased primarily offensively. Van Meter has struck 74 more hits total than Treynor with 49 more RBI.

It’s no secret that the Bulldogs have been one of the strongest offensive teams in the class ( top five in 19 statistical categories). It’s been a strong push but it hasn’t all come from the power game. In fact, Van Meter’s offensive production has come in a variety of ways, including ranking second in 2A with 51 batters hit by pitch and tops in the class with 28 sacrifice bunts (a full ten ahead of second place). The patience at the plate could easily be dubbed one of their stronger aspects as well (89 walks). It has helped to highlight a big part of the successful formula for the Bulldogs in 2020.

“We haven’t taken anything for granted all season and while we’ve spent a lot of time on hitting the gaps and making good contact, we’re also focused on making sure we do the little things right,” Kennedy said. “We want to be as versatile of an offense as possible and that includes bunting and so forth.”

On the pitching side of things, the Bulldogs are just as strong. Van Meter already has a 61 strikeout lead on Treynor entering the day. It’s a pitching staff that has just as much state tournament experience as skill.

“We are incredibly blessed with the level of our pitching staff,” said Kennedy. “We’ve never built a staff that’s just one guy deep. We have confidence in a lot of guys and we know that if they don’t have their best day, they have their defense behind them. It speaks volumes to what coach Baumhover has done and the work these kids have put in.”

Pitching in itself can be a challenge but the challenge that Principal Park brings can also add to things.

“It’s the best place a lot of people are ever going to play at,” began Potthoff. “When the game begins though you just have to focus up there on the mound otherwise you can get lost in how big the park is.”

The Bulldogs will battle with the Cardinals for the first time in state tournament action, and it will begin Monday, July 27 at 10:30 a.m.