116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
ALBURNETT — Ryan Stensland is in his fifth season as Alburnett’s head coach.
When he took over the Pirates baseball program, he started at the same time as a talented group of youngsters. Those eighth-graders are now seniors and are the first class Stensland has worked with from start to finish, including a state runner-up finish in 2019.
“It’s just a great group of kids,” Stensland said. “It’s been fun to watch those guys grow from basically kids to the young men they are and see the accomplishments they had.”
The Pirates have produced another solid season, posting a 17-8 mark and remaining in contention for a Tri-Rivers Conference West Division title after Monday’s doubleheader split with Class 1A second-ranked North Linn. Alburnett will recognize the seven seniors at home Thursday against Calamus-Wheatland.
Stensland estimated the class is 126-37 overall
“I’m proud of them. I’m very appreciative to be a small part of their life for a few months every summer,” Stensland said. “They’ve shown up every day and continued to work to try to get better and be a better version of themselves.”
The seniors have made a huge impact. Hunter Caves, Reed Stallman, Shane Neighbor and Kale Rose have each earned all-state honors during their careers. Caves was the Tri-Rivers Most Valuable Player last season and has had similar success.
Caves leads the team in runs (42), hits (41), home runs (4), batting average .512) and on-base percentage (.585) and has 68 total bases. He also has three wins on the mound with a 1.14 earned-run average and 40 strikeouts in a team-high 37 1/3 innings pitched.
“He’s just an athlete,” Stensland said of Caves. “Some of the things he does are amazing.”
Stallman has 17 extra-base hits of his 33 total. He has a team-high 11 doubles, four triples and 36 RBIs, hitting .465 with a .511 on-base percentage.
Rose is 5-2 with a 3.84 ERA and leads the team with 48 strikeouts in 34 2/3 innings.
Neighbor owns a .394 batting average, reaching base at a .488 clip. He also has 22 RBIs and three home runs. His biggest contribution might be his dependability as a backstop.
“He’s an iron horse for us behind the plate,” Stensland said. “I think he’s caught every game for me since he was a sophomore. That’s a lot of ball and he’s catching doubleheaders on these days when it’s hot and humid.
“The strength has been relying on those guys again. They find different ways to get it done.”
Interestingly, Neighbor has caught two unique no-hitters. Rose teamed with junior Gavin Soukup and his freshman brother, Karson, for a no-no in an 8-0 win over MFL MarMac. Stallman threw a no-hitter against New London, despite the 2-1 setback.
The Pirates have started to play better as the season progress.
“I think we’re right there,” Stensland said. “I think the New London game and the North Linn games were the most complete games we have played.”
Alburnett has faced a tough schedule — something by design to make it battle-tested for the rapidly approaching postseason. Five losses have come to ranked teams, dropping four by a combined seven runs. They have been in just about every game.
“It’s been a real eye-opener from some of our guys to see the quality of pitching that we’ve seen from some of those teams,” Stensland said. “I think that’s a good thing because we don’t want to have any surprises coming into the postseason.
“I hope our regular season will put us in a position to make a run, especially with this senior group of kids. We’ll see what happens.”
A look at the area conference races
Conference competition is hitting the home stretch of the season. Many of the team races are unsettled.
In the Mississippi Valley Conference, Class 4A fourth-ranked Cedar Rapids Prairie sits atop the Mississippi Division with an 18-4 MVC mark. The Hawks are 23-5 overall. No. 7 Iowa City High, which swept Prairie, is a game back at 17-5 in the conference. The Little Hawks are 21-9 overall. Class 3A No. 2 Dubuque Wahlert is two games back with a 16-6 MVC mark.
Dubuque Hempstead, ranked 10th in 4A, is 20-5 overall and 16-4 in the conference. The Mustangs lead 3A No. 7 Cedar Rapids Xavier (17-10 overall) by two games.
In the Wamac East, 3A top-ranked Marion (21-3, 13-0) leads No. 6 Solon (20-7, 16-2) by 2 1/2 games before their doubleheader Thursday at Marion.
Williamsburg (15-10, 11-7) leads the rest of the Wamac West field by two games.
Cascade and Camanche own similar 13-3 conference marks and are tied atop the River Valley North. The Cougars are 14-9 overall. Class 2A No. 7 Mid-Prairie (15-5, 12-3) leads the River Valley South.
South Winneshiek, a state quarterfinalist last season, is first in the Upper Iowa Conference. The Warriors are 21-5 overall and 14-2 in the UIC.
Decorah leads the Northeast Iowa Conference with a 14-1 mark. The Vikings are 19-5 overall.
Lisbon (16-12, 11-3) remains in first in the Tri-Rivers East.
Brackets have been released for Class 1A and 2A districts. Preliminary rounds for 1A will begin July 8, while 2A postseason play begins July 10.
Pairings for both classes can be found on the Iowa High School Athletic Association website.
North Linn, Lisbon, Alburnett, Maquoketa Valley, Highland and Sigourney are among the 1A hosts.
In Class 2A, Anamosa, Union Community and Waukon will host first-round district games.