DEWITT – Since joining the Mississippi Athletic Conference this season, the Central DeWitt baseball team has rallied behind one word this season.
After wrapping up an 11-1 win in six innings Friday over Fairfield to open Class 3A postseason play, the Sabers broke down their postgame huddle shouting that same word.
In a substate featuring five Southeast Conference teams and perennial powerhouse Davenport Assumption, Central DeWitt is on a mission to break through and earn a trip to the Iowa High School Baseball Tournament. The Sabers used a hot start, answering a first-inning run by Fairfield with four runs in the bottom of the first, and a big finish scoring six times in the sixth clinching a Monday night trip to Fort Madison on an RBI single to right by John McConohy.
"We the smallest school in a new conference. We consider ourselves the outsiders because we're a 3A school playing in 4A conference," Central DeWitt head baseball coach Shane Sikkema said. "It's something our program has built a motto around. That's what we roll with."
Fairfield could not keep rolling after squeezing home the first run of the postseason opener on Friday. Dylan Hunter drew a one-out walk off Saber senior pitcher Boomer Johnson and moved to third on a seeing-eye single off the bat of Nate Smithburg before scoring on a bunt by Brad Smithburg, giving the Trojans a 1-0 lead.
"I thought that would set the tone for the game," Fairfield head baseball coach Josh Allison said. "I prepared the boys before the game to be ready, because we were going to put the pressure on them early. We were going to do anything we could to push that first run across."
That first run would be all Johnson would allow, striking out Nate Woodburn to strand Nate Smithburg at second base to end the top of the first. The Sabers would answer right back as the first of four Trojan fielding errors helped ignite Central DeWitt's response.
"It's hard to keep playing when you make a few mistakes in the field," Allison said. "I do think our guys kept battling. We were probably a couple inches away from a much different outcome."
Those inches came on four balls hit during the game by the Sabers that stayed fair just inside the left and first-base lines instead of going foul. Jacob Maher had the first of those doubles into the corners of the Central DeWitt baseball diamond, snapping a 1-1 tie with a one-out hit that just snuck past Nate Smithburg at first base.
"We could have hit the ball a little bit better throughout the night, but we got lucky with those shots down the line," Sikkema said. "It's all about seven seniors that put their time in throughout the winter. It paid off tonight. Our seven seniors are good leaders. We've played from behind at times this season. It made a huge difference to battle back like we did in the first inning."
Henry Bloom collected his second hit in as many innings for the Sabers with the only double that didn't hug a foul line, driving in Ben Mason in the second inning to put Central DeWitt up 5-1. Brad Woodburn would come on to pitch for Fairfield, tossing four scoreless innings before a double down the left-field line by Kaiden Muhl was followed by the first of Fairfield's three errors in the sixth, helping the Sabers put five unearned runs on the board to put the Class 3A, Substate 4 quarterfinal win.
"It really just boiled down to us needing to make plays," Allison said. "You can't win if you're giving good teams extra outs."
Johnson added a two-run double to help finish off a winning night for the Sabers at the plate and on the mound. Brad Smithburg's two-out single in the third inning, a lead-off walk in the top of sixth to Nate Smithburg and a one-out single later in the final frame by Nate Woodburn would prove to be the only three baserunners Johnson would allow over the final five innings as part of a three-hit complete game that included seven strikeouts.
While Central DeWitt will look to move on to the substate finals with a win Monday night at Fort Madison, Fairfield will look to continue their rebuilding process next summer. The Trojans lose seniors Brody Angstead, Brad Smithburg, Wyatt Baker and Kevin Kretz as four seniors that helped the Trojans improve to 11-18 this season after going 4-17 during a COVID-shortened 2020 season.
"All four of those seniors have been an integral part of our program. We're definitely going to miss them," Allison said. "If look closely at our record, 12 of our losses came to ranked teams, teams that are among the top 15 in all four classes and Class 4A schools. I think the schedule prepared our younger kids for next season. Our junior varsity team went 25-5 this season, so we've got young talent that can mix in with our returning varsity players.
"It's going to take some time during the offseason. The guys have to spend some time preparing for the future."