Jefferson tries to accomplish remaining goal

State regular Kennedy stands in way of first state berth since 1998

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids Jefferson Coach Kyle Rodenkirk said the J-Hawks set their goals in chronological order.

The first is winning the season-opening Metro tournament. Top-ranked Cedar Rapids Prairie thwarted that one.

The second is a Mississippi Valley Conference divisional crown. Nope, that was claimed by second-ranked Iowa City West.

The sixth-ranked J-Hawks are staring down another goal, but rival Cedar Rapids Kennedy forms a substantial roadblock in the way of a state berth. Jefferson hosts the Cougars in the Iowa High School Athletic Association Class 4A Substate 3 final Wednesday night at Lower Kingston, beginning at 7.

“It’s a new season, so we have the biggest and brightest goal ahead of us,” Rodenkirk said. “It just comes down to your work ethic and guys who believe in each other. Come together as a team and good things are going to happen.”

The first two goals don’t matter since they earned the substate’s top seed and the most important still is attainable. Senior Manny Olutunde said they just missed the first two. They have a chance to reverse the trend.

“We only need one game to get to the state tournament,” Olutunde said. “It’s huge.”

Jefferson is looking for its ninth state berth, but first since 1998. In comparison, the Cougars have been regulars at the state tournament recently, making 12 of their 16 state appearances since 2000 and winning a state title in 2010.

A victory and trip to Principal Park in Des Moines would a great finish for a successful senior class that helped turnaround the Jefferson program. The last three seasons have produced 80 wins after losing seasons when they first joined the high school ranks.

“A lot of people talk about our senior class,” said Olutunde, who was a part of the J-Hawks’ first winning football season in more than a decade. “Now, to finish it off by going to state would mean a lot, especially for the school, too.”

Jefferson (27-11) received a bye after opening the postseason with an 8-0 victory over Cedar Rapids Washington. Rodenkirk said he doesn’t care for the extended layoff, but they have a rested and deep pitching staff. He said they won’t make many changes, except for some defensive game plans.

“I don’t have to tell them how big of a game this is (but) I try not to make it that big of a game,” Rodenkirk said. “I just say it’s just another game, because that is all it is.

“The looser and more relaxed we are, I think, the better we are.”

Rodenkirk said he will play his starter by ear before the game. The Cougars (29-13) didn’t see all-stater Spencer Van Scoyoc in the regular season, but they expect the Arizona State signee and 19th-round draft pick of the Toronto Blue Jays on the mound.

“We’re excited, expecting a lot,” Kennedy’s Jackson Behn said. “We know we’re getting the big lefty, so that’s who I would want. It’s a fun way to go out. A great challenge.”

Both enter the game on notable win streaks. The Cougars have won eight straight, handling Western Dubuque, 12-2, in the substate semifinal. Jefferson’s stretch includes six wins in a row. Interestingly, their last losses came at the hands of each other with the visiting team winning in a two-day home-and-home set earlier this month.

Few have played as well as Kennedy the last month.

“We’ve been playing really well in July, won 11 of our last 12, something like that,” Kennedy Coach Bret Hoyer said. “We’ve started to get more consistent. We were just a little too inconsistent in the middle part of the season. It has been a real slow, gradual improvement process for us.”

Rodenkirk said officials must be happy with the prospects of a big crowd and good pitching matchup. He said he anticipates a good competitive game.

Kennedy will look for a third straight trip to state, while the J-Hawks try to end the drought.

“We are here and now we have to do work,” Rodenkirk said. “We said all along this is the position we want to be in with a chance to get to state. We have to go out and make plays.”

In other 4A games, Prairie (34-6) hosts Cedar Falls (22-18). Davenport Central (25-10) heads to West (32-6).

Vinton-Shellsburg (25-16) will attempt to reach state in consecutive years for the first time, facing host DeWitt Central (31-11) in a 3A substate final. Solon (20-20) will play fourth-ranked Fairfield (27-7) in another 3A substate final.

Weather postponed some of Tuesday night’s games in 1A and 2A.

Class 1A sixth-ranked North-Linn (34-9) and Highland (23-6) were moved to Wednesday. Third-ranked Don Bosco (33-4) will face BGM (23-7) in a 1A substate final on Wednesday.

In Class 2A, Iowa City Regina (22-16) and Van Buren (22-4) were also pushed back to Wednesday.

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

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