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Battle-tested Blazers prepared for state tournament return

Second-seeded Dyersville Beckman unbeaten against Class 2A foes

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DES MOINES — Dyersville Beckman took some lumps in the regular season, but that doesn’t bother the small school baseball power.

The Blazers have made a habit of facing a tough schedule stocked with larger programs and turning it into postseason success.

Second-seeded Beckman opens its 17th appearance at the state baseball tournament against Pleasantville in a Class 2A quarterfinal Monday at Principal Park. First pitch is slated for 5 p.m.

Beckman (24-17) is a stellar 7-0 against 2A teams, playing just four games against teams in its own class. The Blazers, however, are 14-15 against 3A schools and 2-2 in 4A games. They bracketed the regular season with victories over 4A foes North Scott and Dubuque Senior.

“It’s by design,” Beckman Coach Tom Jenk Jr. said. “We’ll play everybody and anybody that wants to come up and play us. We like the challenge. We know it was a little bit frustrating. We lost nine games by one run. We’re pretty young, yet experienced now by playing those 3A and 4A teams.”

The Blazers enter the tournament with the second-most losses among the 32 state teams in all four classes. Only Wamac foe Solon (21-20) in 3A has more. One of the benefits of a challenging regular season is the Blazers won’t be overwhelmed by any situation they face in the postseason.

“It really helps a lot because coming up against all the 3A and 4A teams we usually see one of their better pitchers,” center fielder Sam Stelken said. “At the end of the year, in districts and substate, we always get their No. 1 (pitcher). We’re pretty much used to it by that time.”

The Wamac had three programs reach the state tournament, including the 3A No. 6 seed DeWitt Central. The conference was balanced this season with 10 of 16 teams posting winning records and at least 21 victories. Rigors of the conference, which includes just two 2A schools, simulate the stress of the postseason. Jenk says he loves the competition.

“It’s a good conference and it helps us out,” said Jenk, estimating the Wamac has about five NCAA Division I caliber pitchers. “It makes us come out and play the game every day, because there are no paper games where you win on paper.”

A turning point came near the end of end of the regular season. The Sabers swept Beckman, tallying 15 runs in the nightcap. The performance was a wake-up call.

“We had one of those nights where the wheels fell off,” Jenk said. “We were pretty embarrassed. We made a renewed commitment to practice every day.”

Beckman’s tradition consists of five state titles, including three straight finals appearances from 2012-14 with back-to-back crowns in 2012-13. The Blazers are tied for third with West Des Moines Dowling for the most state berths.

After one of those regular-season setbacks, Jenk brought in former Beckman all-stater and University of Northern Iowa baseball player Kurt Wedewer to talk to the team. Wedewer was a member of the 1984 3A runner-up squad. The message helped propel the Blazers into the playoffs.

“It meant a lot to get us fired up for the postseason,” Stelken said. “He talked a lot about tradition. It pumped us up to continue it and do our part to keep it alive.”

Pleasantville (28-9) stands in the way of the Blazers adding to that tradition. Pleasantville moved up, losing to Mason City Newman in the 1A title game last season. Jenk said he no longer scouts and all he knows about the Trojans are the statistics reported online.

“We play the game the way we practice and the way we want the game played,” Jenk said. “I don’t need to worry about the other team.”

Skill levels and personnel may change each season, but the expectations remain the same. The regular season provided the experience for a run.

“Our ultimate goal is to play championship Saturday,” Jenk said. “We’re a couple games away.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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