CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Tiny Martensdale-St. Mary’s (Iowa) High School has burst into the national high school baseball consciousness in a big way.
The Blue Devils won their national record 85th straight game Monday (July 25) when they escaped upstart North English English Valleys in the first round of the Iowa Class 1A state tournament at Principal Park in Des Moines. Iowa is the only state in the country that conducts its high school baseball season during the summer.
Top-ranked M-SM won its final 43 games to claim the Class 1A state championship last summer, and is 42-0 heading into its state tournament semifinal on Thursday against Coon Rapids-Bayard (30-5).
That’s a lot of winning over the span of about 15 months, and there is an identifiable bridge between the two unblemished seasons. The core group of players on these last two M-SM teams played together last fall on one of the better teams in the 2010 PG Iowa Fall Wood Bat Scout League.
Current Blue Devils 3B Dillon Coates (class of 2011), RHP/MIF T.J. Foster (2012), RHP/OF Jake Nauman (2012), 1B/RHP Zebedee Noel (2012), C/MIF David Walker (2012), MIF/OF Robert Walker (2012) and RHP/MIF Ethan Westphal (2011) all played on the PG Iowa Black team for Coach Steve Westphal.
Right-hander JD Nielsen (2012) played for the elite PG Iowa Select travel team last year, and is expected to do so again in the fall.
“Without question, that was a big plus,” Coach Westphal said of the players’ PG Fall League experience. “Some of them do a little football (in the fall) but at the same time I think they look forward to the weekends when they can play baseball. It’s kind of fun because they get to mesh with some other kids from (bigger schools).”
Dozens of kids from those bigger schools who played in PG spring and fall leagues are also in Des Moines this week participating with their schools in the Iowa Class 2A, 3A and 4A state tournaments.
Martensdale (pop. 460) and St. Mary’s (120) are small towns situated in south-central Iowa. Martensdale-St. Mary’s participates in Class 1A in baseball, the Iowa High School Athletic Association’s classification for its smallest member schools. The consolidated M-SM school district had 498 students in the fall of 2010, including 160 in the high school.
Many of the students open-enroll into the district from neighboring districts, but just as many open-enroll out. According to a report in the Des Moines Register on July 27, last fall 86 students open-enrolled into the district and 97 open-enrolled out.
This group of M-SM players has been playing together or against one another on youth travel teams for years, regardless of where they call home. By participating in the PG Iowa Fall Wood Bat Scout League, they were given the opportunity to see how they stacked up against the other top players in the state.
“If nothing else, it lets them see what they’re dealing with from other kids in the state as far as matching up with the competition,” Coach Westphal said. “Are they as good? I think they’re finding out that they are, even at the big-school level. They’ve found out they can compete and that’s made a huge difference.”
Coates, a graduated senior who will continue his baseball career at Southwestern Community College in Creston, Iowa, in the fall, said playing in the PG Fall League helped serve as a springboard toward challenging for another Iowa small-school state championship.
“It was definitely beneficial,” he said. “A lot of us guys just wanted to get out and see better pitching, because we knew we weren’t going to see a bunch of 85-plus pitching until we got to the state tournament. So we knew if we wanted to do it again, we needed to get out and experience the baseball world.
“And a lot of (the benefit) was just playing with your buddies, playing with the guys you love to play with.”
Some of the numbers these guys put up during M-SM’s run to the state tournament are eye-popping.
Ace right-hander Ethan Westphal – the son of Steve Westphal and another Southwest CC signee – was 11-0 with a 0.59 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 59 innings. He also hit .468 (58-for-124) with 15 doubles, 52 RBI, 52 runs and 24 stolen bases. Westphal played in the PG fall league three seasons (2008-10) and in the PG spring league two seasons (2009-10).
Coates led the team in hitting at .473 (53-for-122) with 11 home runs, 16 doubles, 49 RBI, 57 runs and 18 steals. Noel smacked nine home runs and 12 doubles and scored 56 runs.
The lefty Nielsen was 9-0 with a 1.29 ERA in 48 2/3 innings, and contributed at the plate with 10 home runs, 61 RBI and 56 runs scored.
Even if the winning streak that has put M-SM in the national record books should come to an end later this week, it will remain something the players will remember the rest of their lives.
“It seems unreal when you go to think about it,” Coates said. “Right now it’s just another story that we can read about but I’m sure later on in life it’s going to be a huge deal.”