By SCOTT JACKSON
Courier sports writer
---- — DES MOINES – To be the champ, they say, you have to beat the champ.
If that’s true, the boys from Bussey may have just gone from a team looking for their first state baseball win on Friday to “the” team to beat among the remaining four left in the Class 1A State Tournament field.
You wouldn’t get any argument from first-year Martensdals-St. Mary’s head coach Jon Fitzpatrick. After second-ranked Twin Cedars ended the Blue Devils’ three-year reign as the best 1A baseball team in the entire state, Fitzpatrick had a simple resounding compliment to pay the Sabers.
“They might be the best baseball team we’ve played all season,” Fitzpatrick said.
With two more wins, Twin Cedars may be able to say they are truly are the best 1A baseball team in the entire state. Some might call that surprising for a team with only one state tournament appearance prior to last Friday night’s nine-inning classic with Martensdale-St. Mary’s.
Those people would not be among those decked out in Saber royal blue. In fact, to call Twin Cedars the best baseball team in the state by the end of this year’s 1A State Baseball Tournament would be simply be a matter of meeting lofty expectations.
“It’s been 10 years since we’ve participated in the state tournament and this group had a goal in mind to do something really special with this opportunity that they’ve been working for since last fall,” Twin Cedars head coach Matt Miller said. “We know we’re capable of it. We’re confident in what we can do. We’re not just coming in here to participate in the state tournament. We’re coming in here to win it.”
“I think we have a lot more believers in our ability to do that than we did before we came up here on Friday.”
Hard to believe all it took was a win over a three-time defending state champ to earn those believers. The Sabers have been among the best teams all season long with its win-loss record, having accumulated a 36-2 record which is the best mark among the 32 teams that made the trip to Des Moines in search of one of state baseball glory.
The Sabers have been ranked in the top five in the state throughout the summer, thanks to producing one of the best offensive and defensive combinations anywhere in Iowa. Twin Cedars led the Class 1A state tournament field with a .417 hitting percentage, 419 runs, 120 extra base hits, 86 doubles and 25 home runs.
Though it took nine innings on Friday night against the Blue Devils, and a fielding error to open the flood gates, Twin Cedars showed that explosiveness with a three-run inning that put an end to the Martensdale-St. Mary’s championship reign.
“When we get one run in, we just want to keep it going,” junior leadoff hitter Coy Moore said after producing a pair of RBI hits in the win over the Blue Devils. “We just want to keep on scoring.”
Moore is also part of the side of successful combination for the Sabers. With a stellar defense backing them up, Moore and sophomore Otis Roby have combined to go 23-1 on the mound this year with Roby moving to 12-0 on Friday after allowing one run on four hits over nine solid innings of work to dethrone the Blue Devils.
“Defense has played well behind me all year. It was big on Friday. It’s been big for us all year,” Roby said. “It makes it a lot easier to pitch out there.”
“Otis is a good pitcher. We know we’ll always have a chance whenever he’s on the mound,” Moore, who’s a not-so-shabby 11-1 himself on the hill, added.
Already in the Class 1A State Baseball Tournament, defense and the teams that have faltered in critical moments have been the ones to see their championship dreams fall. That includes the three-time reigning champs, who allowed the Sabers a little opening Friday with an error in the ninth that opened the door to a decisive game-winning rally.
In the end, defense and pitching are two things Twin Cedars excels at, which may give the Sabers all the edge they need moving forward toward winning the first state baseball title in school history.
“I truly believe pitching and defense is going to win this tournament in the end. It always has and it always will,” Miller said. “We’ve got a long ways to go, but if it’s about who can pitch the best and play defense the best, I like our team’s chances going forward.”
“We didn’t just come here to have fun this week. We came here to bring home a championship,” senior Eric Clark added.
To follow Scott Jackson’s Twitter feed, go to @stjack423