DES MOINES – The Central DeWitt baseball team will open state tournament play in a quarterfinal contest at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday in Des Moines, where defending state champion Centerville awaits.
The No. 3 Sabers (36-3) will be immediately tested by the sixth-seeded Big Reds, who find themselves in familiar territory after running the table at Principal Park from the same seeding last summer.
But that was in Class 2A.
Centerville (24-6) has seemingly leaped to 3A competition with grace, though, as it did not lose to any 2A opponents this season. Of the teams' six losses, three came to 3A schools and three at the 4A level.
Central DeWitt hangs its hat on the pitching staff – and for good reason. The group of Lucas Bixby, Alex McAleer, Luke Anderson and Garrett Finley have combined to turn in a 26-0 record this season to accompany a 1.21 ERA.
Although Anderson's absence (broken wrist) is a major blow, the depth of the Sabers is well-documented.
Central DeWitt coach Shane Sikkema is expected to turn to either Bixby or McAleer against Centerville. The duo has posted eerily similar numbers this season, as both right-handers are 7-0 while Bixby's 0.76 ERA barely trumps McAleer's (0.77).
Translation: Those guys are tough to score against.
However, Centerville is battled tested. Last year's bunch sent shockwaves through the 2A bracket, reeling off back-to-back upset victories before upending top-seeded Iowa City Regina in the finals.
This year's version of the Big Reds' roster claims only one senior, but it does tout six starters from last summer's championship battle, including sophomore Brady Kauzlarich, who enters with a .453 batting average and a class-leading 40 stolen bases this season.
Centerville defeated North Polk in a state-qualifying matchup, beating sophomore standout pitcher Joe Husak, who entered the game having only allowed eight earned runs through 37 innings of work. The Big Reds will also return to Principal Park for the third straight season.
The Big Reds' pitching staff does not have an undisputed "ace" and its collective ERA this season enters play at a modest 3.00. They will have their hands full with the Sabers, who send nine batters with .300-plus batting averages to the plate every game. The leader of the offense is Finley, who is hitting .484 with three homers.
The winner of Central DeWitt and Centerville will play either Davenport Assumption or Boone Friday.
By the numbers: Central DeWitt vs. Centerville
Team batting average: DeWitt (.344), Centerville (.332)
Team ERA: DeWitt (2.05), Centerville (3.00)
Key players (Central DeWitt): Garrett Finley (.484 avg., 48 RBIs); Lucas Bixby (.315 avg., 21 RBIs; 7-0, 0.76 ERA); Alex McAleer (.303 avg, 26 RBIs; 7-0, 0.77 ERA)
Key players (Centerville): Brady Kaulzarich (.453 avg., 40 SB; 6-0, 2.07 ERA); McCain Oden (.400 avg., 27 RBIs; 6-0, 2.29 ERA); Merrick Mathews (.429 avg., 28 RBIs).