When the area high school baseball season began, there were teams that had great expectations.
By the end of it, there were some that maybe exceeded them.
Going into the season, Fairfield and Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont were the darlings; both made deep postseason runs last year only to come up just short of the state tournament. Together, they had 19 seniors on rosters this year.
Both once again fell short, with the Trojans losing by a run to Davenport Assumption in a Class 3A substate final, and EBF falling to rival Davis County in the Class 2A district semifinals. The teams finished with 26 and 21 wins, respectively, so they hardly had bad seasons on paper.
Then there was the case of Ottumwa and Pekin, especially the Panthers. To say Pekin, which finished 17-9, came out of nowhere might not be accurate, but the Panthers indeed saved their best baseball of the season for the postseason. They bookended the district and substate tournament with squeakers, most notably a combined no-hitter against No. 4 Calamus-Wheatland in a Class 1A substate final, sending them to the state tournament for the first time, and they were only team in that field to play fewer than 30 games.
Ottumwa needed to replace 12 seniors from last year’s roster. This season, the Bulldogs scratched out a 20-win season by creating depth and identifying the younger players who will be part of the nucleus for the next couple seasons. The Bulldogs also picked up quality wins this season and took the race for the CIML Metro title to the final week. As a result, Bulldogs coach John Jaeger earned the All-Courier coach of the year honor.
Individually, it was a strong year. Three players, all named to the All-Courier team, were named all-state by the Iowa Print Sports Writers Association, and several others were picked for all-district teams.
Fairfield’s Austin Simpson was selected the All-Courier player of the year for the second year in a row, as he posted one of the best offensive seasons in Class 3A. He hit 16 home runs, drove in 49 runs and hit .473 for the Trojans, and completed the postseason trifecta — Southeast Conference player of the year, first-team all-district and first-team all-state.
The All-Courier baseball team:
Jared McCrea, EBF, Soph.
The Rockets sophomore had an outstanding season, logging the most innings (54 2/3) on EBF’s staff. He finished 5-3 with a 2.18 ERA and struck out 51 in his time on the hill, and earned second-team all-district honors in Class 2A. He was one of the keys to a 21-win team that has finished in the South Central Conference’s top three three consecutive years.
Trevor Slayton, Davis County, Sr.
Slayton earned Class 2A all-district honors as a shortstop, but when he pitched and was at his best, his was difficult to hit. He finished 7-4 with a 1.63 ERA in 512/3 innings, and he demonstrated excellent control with 48 strikeouts and just 13 walks. He allowed more unearned runs (14) than earned runs (12) during his final season.
Jaxon Thomas, Van Buren, Sr.
Thomas was named to the SEI Superconference’s all-conference team in the South Division, and finished as the only undefeated pitcher in the area (5-0) with a minimum of five starts. He averaged about a strikeout an inning, posting 41 strikeouts in 431/3 innings, and led the staff in innings pitched. He also posted a 2.75 ERA, one of four pitchers on the Warriors’ staff with an ERA under 3.00.
Quinn Ledger, Pekin, Sr.
Ledger had a season to remember as one of the backbones to the Panthers’ state tournament team. The Class 1A all-district performer hit .351 with 15 RBIs, and was 16 of 17 in stolen bases for the season. He was part of a senior class that finally put the Panthers over the hump, and he caught the no-hitter in the substate final to send Pekin to the state tournament, where he drove in two runs and scored twice in the quarterfinals.
Austin Simpson, Fairfield, Sr.
Simpson had a big finish to his career, and was arguably the most feared hitter in any area lineup this season. The left-handed power hitter stroked a school-record 16 home runs and drove in 49 runs for the Trojans, who missed the Class 3A state tournament by one game. His home run total tied Johnston’s Peyton Williams for the most in the state this season, and his .473 batting average was one of the top five averages in the state.
Mitch Wood, Ottumwa, Soph.
Wood enjoyed a steady season at shortstop for the Bulldogs and, despite his youth, was one of the more veteran players on the team. Wood was an all-district performer in Class 4A, as he hit .321 with a home run and 20 RBIs, and tied for the team lead in hits (35) and doubles (13). He also scored 28 runs, and made just eight errors in the field in 119 chances.
Tanner Bainbridge, Pekin, Sr.
Bainbridge, who battled some back issues that hampered his pitching abilities from time to time, showed well when the stakes were highest. The shortstop hit .506 with five home runs and 31 RBIs and scored 34 runs during a season in which he earned all-district and all-state honors in Class 1A. He pitched 61/3 innings of a combined no-hitter in the substate final, then had three hits in the state quarterfinals.
Jesus Jaime, Ottumwa, Soph.
Jaime saw limited playing time last season because of a senior-laden class, but rounded into form as a sophomore playing third base for the Bulldogs. He earned all-district honors, leading Ottumwa in batting average (.372), home runs (two), RBIs (31), and tying for the team lead in hits with Wood. He was a slick defender as well, committing just five errors on the season.
Caleb Comstock, Pekin, Sr.
Comstock finished his career on a solid note, hitting .433 with 22 RBIs and 30 runs scored during an all-district campaign. The center fielder and sometimes-pitcher threw the last 2/3 innings of the Panthers’ no-hitter in the substate final, then pitched again in the state tournament, where he had a hit and scored a run against eventual champion Mason City Newman.
Owen Bennett, Davis County, Sr.
Bennett was an excellent defender for the Mustangs, and was the team’s only regular position player not to commit an error. He batted .274 with 13 RBIs, and led the team with 27 runs scored as a mainstay in the leadoff position. Bennett earned all-South Central Conference honors, as the Mustangs lost to eventual state qualifier Central Lee in a Class 2A district final.
Caden Jones, Fairfield, Sr.
Jones, part of a large senior class for the Trojans, hit .301 and drove in 22 runs during an all-Southeast Conference season. He also led the team in stolen bases (11), and made just two errors all season for Fairfield. He also had a solid year on the mound when called upon, finishing 3-1 with a 2.08 ERA.
Kosta Papazoglou, Fairfield, Sr.
Papazoglou, a third-team all-state selection this season, was Fairfield’s best catcher and best pitcher, making him an excellent utility player even though most of his season was devoted to catching. He was one of the many potent bats in Fairfield’s lineup, hitting 10 home runs and driving in 38 runs out of the leadoff spot. He made just one error all season, but was as dominating of a pitcher as anyone around, finishing 7-2 with a 0.97 ERA and 83 strikeouts in 501/3 innings.
COACH OF THE YEAR
John Jaeger, Ottumwa
The body of work of Jaeger’s season was impeccable considering the huge personnel losses the Bulldogs suffered to graduation a year ago. Jaeger took a team that lost 12 seniors, eight of nine position players and most of the pitching staff and turned it into a team that earned 20 wins, including a top-five win over Des Moines Roosevelt, a solid road win at Marshalltown and a home victory over West Des Moines Valley. The Bulldogs were in the CIML Metro race in the final week of the season before finishing third. He molded a team that should be in position to thrive next year and beyond with pitching depth and excellent position players.
2019 All-Courier baseball team
Pitchers — Jared McCrea, EBF, Soph.; Trevor Slayton, Davis County, Sr.; Jaxon Thomas, Van Buren, Sr.
Catcher — Quinn Ledger, Pekin, Sr.
Infielders — Austin Simpson, Fairfield, Sr.; Mitch Wood, Ottumwa, Soph.; Tanner Bainbridge, Pekin, Sr.; Jesus Jaime, Ottumwa, Soph.
Outfielders — Caleb Comstock, Pekin, Sr.; Owen Bennett, Davis County, Sr.; Caden Jones, Fairfield, Sr.
Utility — Kosta Papazoglou, Fairfield, Sr.
Player of the year — Simpson
Coach of the year — John Jaeger, Ottumwa
Albia — Ashton Brand
Cardinal — Cameron Honomichl, Colby Aschenbrenner
Davis County — Kade Tharp
EBF — Nolan Stetter
Fairfield — Tristin Waugh
Ottumwa — Dominick Delehoy, Adam Denniston, Trae Swartz
Pekin — Brady Latcham
Van Buren — Jacob Plecker, Ryan Wolf