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Best side was the West side in 2016

Prairie and Jefferson advance to 4A state baseball tournament for first time in same season

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DES MOINES — Concession stands at Principal Park have all the baseball staples.

Fans can get hot dogs, Cracker Jacks and even an all-you-can-drink soda for $10. They may want to add kolaches to the menu with two teams from Southwest Cedar Rapids in the Class 4A state tournament field.

“Hopefully, it’s from my grandma, Pat Charipar” Cedar Rapids Jefferson Coach Kyle Rodenkirk said with a laugh. “They’re great. You can never go wrong with the powdered sugar. Apricot is the best. She’s got a recipe that dates back to the homeland, I’m sure.”

For the first time, top-ranked Cedar Rapids Prairie and the seventh-seeded J-Hawks have qualified for the state baseball tournament in the same season.

Top-seeded Prairie (35-6) will end an 11-year skid when it opens against No. 8 Davenport West (22-12) Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. Jefferson (28-11) will make its first trip in 18 years, facing second-seeded Iowa City West (33-6) at 5 p.m.

The two programs are separated by less than seven miles in the same quadrant of the city. Both were leaving Tuesday afternoon, but were not carpooling.

“I think it’s awesome for the community, in general,” Prairie Coach Todd Rima said. “You have to tip your cap to some of the quality youth coaches that worked with the kids.

“We were fortunate to have that in both programs.”

State baseball: Live stream, scores, schedule

Jefferson’s Spencer Van Scoyoc said he played USSSA baseball on a travel team with Prairie all-stater Cal Clark and Nic Mougin. Clark recalled playing Van Scoyoc and his younger brother, Connor Van Scoyoc. They still have a strong bond, despite playing for different programs.

“They are two of my best friends,” Clark said. “It’s cool to see them down there, too.”

The last Metro school to win a title was Cedar Rapids Kennedy in 2010. The Hawks began the season unranked and ascended the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association poll, taking the top spot at the end of the regular season. The J-Hawks were as high as third, residing in the top-10 all season.

“It definitely shows there are talented players on this side of the state,” said Clark, noting that the Central Iowa Metro League receives the most attention after winning 19 4A titles since 1995. “We both have a chance to go down and do some damage.”

Jefferson assistant Gordy Nordgren provided a history lesson to the J-Hawks in their last tune up before leaving for Des Moines. The J-Hawks are making their ninth trip, placing second in the first appearance in 1970. They have received an outpouring of support since the end of their substate final win over Kennedy.

“It’s been a long time,” Jefferson senior Jared Eivins said. “It sticks with the players. You’re wanting to go out there and do it for all the alumni, who haven't made it there. It’s a cool thing to represent us and them as well.”

Spencer Van Scoyoc echoed those sentiments.

“It’s big,” he said. “We haven’t been there for so long. It’s great, not only for our team, our school but the whole town.”

Prairie has experienced unprecedented success under Rima, winning two straight Mississippi Valley Conference division titles and setting a school record for wins in a season each of the last two years. He has praised the senior class and they have earned the program’s second state berth.

“It was real important for guys to step into leadership roles,” Rima said. “The guys from last year have all made strides. They put in the time to get better.”

The Hawks face a Davenport West team that recorded surprise substate victories over North Scott and Dubuque Senior. Prairie beat the Falcons, 4-1, in the regular season but West blanked Senior for the state berth behind a no-hitter from sophomore Clayton Nettleton, who leads them with eight wins.

“It’s going to be a great game,” Rima said. “For us, it’s going to be a challenge. We know we have to be prepared. If not, he’s going to make it tough.”

Rodenkirk and Eivins said the J-Hawks have been propelled by a strong camaraderie. The cohesive group, including 13 seniors, have played many games and experienced plenty of fun together. It has become a key factor in their success.

“The chemistry, hanging loose, really helped us,” Rodenkirk said. “Each team is a little bit different and this team is more loose. The looser they play the better they are.”

West swept Jefferson in a doubleheader May 31. The Trojans are considered a favorite to reach the finals for a third straight season and fifth time since 2009. The familiar foe isn’t a benefit or detriment, according to Rodenkirk.

“I don’t think it matters a whole lot,” Rodenkirk said. “We know the task at hand (and) it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be a fun game.”

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

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