Sabers have sights set on third trip to Des Moines

Members of the 2019 Central DeWitt baseball team are (front, from left) Alex McAleer, Devin Hurdle, Lucas Bixby, Garrett Finley, Jake Swanson, Drew Eden, Nolan Haack, Luke Anderson; (middle) Boomer Johnson, Ben Mason, Koal Bossom, Tyson Dunne, Blake Bloom, Sean McNamara, Cody Penniston, Tyler Herington, Noah Thein; (back) head coach Shane Sikkema, assistant coach Sean Helton, Henry Bloom, John McConohy, Blake Lindsly, Ethan Pierce, Tucker Kinney, Ben Alger, Grant Olson, assistant coach Terry Matzen, assistant coach Scott Burke, and assistant coach Gage Fuller. Not pictured: Sean Kinney, Kaiden Muhl, and Jeff Fuller.

A memorable postseason run came up just short a season ago.

Now, with the bulk of that Central DeWitt baseball team back in uniform, the Sabers are determined to make sure this summer’s memories include the program’s third trip to Des Moines for the state baseball tournament.

The Sabers came close to making that a reality last season. They won a district crown after walking off for a victory against Marion that took two days to conclude thanks to rain and then upsetting second-ranked Cedar Rapids Xavier, but fell to eventual state champion Davenport Assumption in the substate game.

Seven Central players who started that substate game are back and overall the Sabers return 15 players who saw action in at least one varsity game.

That returning experience has already paid off, Central has won its first 15 games and boasts the No. 3 ranking in Class 3A.

Pitching has been the Sabers’ biggest strength. They lead Class 3A with a 1.24 team ERA and have held foes under two runs in 10 of their 13 victories.

Senior Lucas Bixby leads the team with more than 23 innings of work on the mound and 35 strikeouts compared to just two walks.

Bixby was an all-state utility selection as a junior after going 6-0 with a 1.04 ERA and 52 strikeouts.

Junior Alex McAleer is also back after winning a team-high seven games last season. McAleer posted a 1.92 ERA – it is down to 0.42 so far this summer – and struck out 34 batters.

Senior Garrett Finley and junior Luke Anderson both joined Bixby with six victories a year ago and are already a combined 5-0 with 37 strikeouts and just 24 hits allowed.

Senior Jake Swanson – two saves and a team-high 54 strikeouts last season – and juniors Tucker Kinney and Ethan Pierce (13 combined appearances as sophomores) give the Sabers even more options and so does sophomore Boomer Johnson, who has made the most of an increase in innings with a 0.95 ERA and 14 strikeouts.

The Sabers have plenty of options behind the plate, too.

Kinney did most of the catching as a sophomore, but has spent time at third base, second base, left field, and right field in the early season, and is hitting .432 with seven doubles and a home run.

Finley has seen his own time behind the plate and is having a monster year at the dish, leading the team with an eye-popping .596 batting average and collecting 31 hits and 21 RBIs.

Freshman Noah Thein played in 11 games, starting five, behind the plate last season, and has already thrown out two potential base stealers in eight games of action this summer.

Seniors abound on the infield as Swanson and Bixby will typically man the corners at first and third, respectively, while Devin Hurdle returns for his third season at shortstop.

Hurdle batted .393 from his lead-off spot a year ago, while collecting 57 hits, scoring 49 runs, and stealing 26 bases – all team-bests.

The senior again leads the teams in runs (20) in the early going, while collecting 18 hits, including eight doubles.

Bixby and Swanson have combined for 26 hits so far this summer. The former was third on the team with 25 runs last season, while the latter drove in 33 runs and earned a team-high 24 walks.

The Sabers have used both junior Nolan Haack and Kinney to take over for long-time starter Cam Steffens at second base.

Haack, who had just six at-bats as a sophomore, is batting .311 through the Sabers’ first 15 games with 13 hits, 12 runs, and 10 stolen bases.

Pierce has handled the majority of the time in left field – he has three runs and four stolen bases this summer – while McAleer is back in center for a second straight season.

McAleer clubbed 40 hits as a sophomore with 22 RBIs and 21 runs and is fourth on the team with 17 hits this season.

Anderson also returns to the outfield after starting 33 games in right field a season ago.

The Saber clubbed a team-high 19 doubles as a sophomore and led the team with 36 RBIs. He is currently second on the team with 16 RBIs and is one of three Sabers to belt home runs.

Johnson, meanwhile, can also see time in the outfield and so can Haack and Kinney.

Senior Drew Eden has seen time as a designated hitter – he has scored four runs – and the Sabers have a number of options on the base paths, including sophomores Henry Bloom, John McConohy, and Kaiden Muhl, freshman Tyler Herington, and eighth-grader Tyson Dunne (the quintet has combined for 20 runs already).

The Sabers are one of four different teams in the seven-team WaMaC East to hold a state ranking.

Central passed its first test, sweeping Marion – ranked fifth in 3A – but still has divisional doubleheaders with Solon (sixth in 3A) and Beckman Catholic (fifth in 2A) on its schedule.

Along with Marion, the two other squads the Sabers faced in last summer’s postseason – Cedar Rapids Xavier and Davenport Assumption – are also ranked.

In fact, the No. 1 Saints and No. 2 Knights are the only two 3A teams to currently be ranked above the Sabers.