Top-ranked Prairie attempts to continue special season

Prairie, Jefferson, Kennedy and Iowa City West host substate openers

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids Prairie enters the postseason as the top Class 4A team, according to the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association.

The ranking can be a tribute or a target. The Hawks are going to view it as recognition for another successful regular season.

Prairie hosts Waterloo East in a Class 4A Substate 2 first-round game Friday, beginning at 7 p.m. The Hawks will take the field the same way they have for every other game.

“We’re not going to change anything we do,” Prairie Coach Todd Rima said. “We’re going to go out and give our best effort.”

Prairie (33-6) claimed the top spot in the rankings for the second straight week. The Hawks began the season unranked, but responded with a school record in wins, topping 31 from a year ago. They also won a second straight Mississippi Valley Conference Mississippi Division title, opening with their first Bob Vrbicek Metro tournament championship.

“It really has been a special season,” Prairie all-state shortstop Cal Clark said. “We aren’t done yet, but so far, so good.”

Starting the postseason No. 1 is nice, but they have hopes of being in that spot at the end.

“It’s definitely a really cool feeling to be noticed as the top team in the state,” Clark said. “Obviously, we still have a lot to prove with tournament play coming up.”

Discussions have been about confidence and being in the right position each play rather than position in the ratings. Prairie has meshed solid defense and pitching with an aggressive and energized offense.

It leads 4A in runs (309) and stolen bases (147). The dividends have been more than the shortfalls.

“We’ve been a team that hasn’t been afraid to take a risk,” Rima said. “Our guys have excelled in those situations.”

The Hawks have been focused on this opportunity for about a year. Prairie fell in the substate final to eventual 4A state runner-up Iowa City West and have been itching for a chance to earn a state berth.

“That’s been their goal,” Rima said. “That’s what they’ve talked about. I think that has been why they’ve worked as hard as they have.”

Top-seeded Prairie swept Waterloo East (3-36) in June, outscoring the Trojans by a combined 34-8. The Hawks won’t look ahead to a second-round bye and substate final until the first victory is in hand.

“We’re going to make sure we’re prepared,” Rima said. “We’re going to play hard. We will look to set a tone for the rest of the postseason.”

In other 4A substate games, second-ranked West and Cedar Rapids Kennedy will look to return to the state tournament. The Trojans (31-6) open at home against Pleasant Valley (14-21). The Cougars (27-13) will face Linn-Mar (18-20).

Sixth-ranked Cedar Rapids Jefferson (26-11) will host Cedar Rapids Washington (17-21) at Lower Kingston. The J-Hawks swept the Warriors at the first week of June.

Iowa City High (18-21) travels for a game against Western Dubuque (25-12).

In Class 3A, Marion (24-15) plays Center Point-Urbana (8-31) at Vinton. Cedar Rapids Xavier (12-22-1) faces DeWitt Central (29-11) in DeWitt.

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

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