116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
With the 2022 Iowa high school baseball season beginning Monday, here are five Gazette area topics to follow this summer.
Metro baseball tournament is gone
The high school baseball season had been ushered in by the Metro baseball tournament for many decades.
The event was started by Pinky Primrose and featured four teams. The competition grew to an eight-team bracket that featured the current seven Cedar Rapids/Marion Metro programs and Mount Vernon and was named after longtime coach and umpire Bob Vrbicek, who died in 1999.
With a shift in the timing for summer sports and the state tournament moved up a week, changes had to be made. Unfortunately, the Bob Vrbicek Metro Baseball tournament was a casualty.
“Based on changes to the Iowa High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) Unified Calendar, the MVC (Mississippi Valley Conference) has adjusted their conference baseball schedules for the 2022 season,” Cedar Rapids Washington Activities Director Grant Schultz said in a news release announcing the decision in February. “As a result, the CRANDIC League (Iowa City and Cedar Rapids Metro area schools) announces the following regarding the Metro Baseball Tournament. The varsity-level Metro Baseball Tournament will no longer be played.”
The tournament generated numerous memories, whether it was extra-inning battles played at high school sites, Veterans Memorial Stadium or Prospect Meadows.
Cedar Rapids Prairie won the final installment of the classic in 2021, defeating Marion in the championship game. The fact Prairie was a Class 4A state semifinalist and Marion captured the 3A state title is a prime example why this tournament was so special. In addition to that, Prairie defeated 3A state semifinalist Cedar Rapids Xavier in the quarterfinals. The one Metro tournament game for Prairie that wasn’t against an eventual state tournament qualifier was a 14-13 thriller won in the bottom of the seventh against Cedar Rapids Kennedy.
The Vrbicek will be missed with teams jumping right into MVC and Wamac Conference play. Interestingly, Marion hosts Mount Vernon at Mount Mercy’s Plaster Athletic Complex, which could have been a first-round game anyway.
If future scheduling allows for the Metro tournament to be resurrected, ADs and coaches should seriously consider it.
Will Dylan Davis have another monster year?
Cedar Rapids Kennedy’s Dylan Davis was a force at the plate last year, sharing the state lead with 13 home runs. He hit .466 with 31 extra-base hits, giving him a .966 slugging percentage. Davis finished with 114 total bases on 55 hits.
The production was more than enough to garner all-state and Mississippi Valley Conference Mississippi Division Player of the Year honors.
Those numbers and accomplishments will be hard to replicate. The Cougars will need to make sure to protect him in the lineup, so he can see good pitches to hit. If they can, and he remains selective each at-bat, he has the potential. Plus, he’s had at least one Perfect Game spring league game with two home runs, so Davis is putting himself in a good spot to pick up where he left off in 2021.
Is North Linn better off in Class 1A?
North Linn is in its second season back in Class 1A after a couple years as a 2A baseball program. After four straight seasons at the state tournament, which bridged the move from 1A to 2A and included a 2A state runner-up finish in 2019 and a 2A state semifinals appearance in 2020, the Lynx didn’t reach the 1A state tournament last season.
Competition is fierce in 1A in Eastern Iowa this season. Lisbon and Lansing Kee reached the state tournament last year. Both teams return much of their production and talent. Alburnett also qualified for state and has been a top 1A school in the area under Coach Ryan Stensland.
North Linn has a lot of talent back, including the dynamic Austin Hilmer, who set a state record with 75 stolen bases last year. Hilmer is a senior, marking the end of an eight-year stretch of Hilmers leading the lineup that dates back to his older brother, Jake.
Hilmer will be relied on but the team has plenty of experience, so it will contend for a 1A state berth with the likes of Kee and Lisbon, though 2A might have been a smoother road.
How will the early start impact teams?
It remains to be seen, but big schools shouldn’t have as much of an issue as small schools. Programs in 1A and 2A are more likely to have multisport athletes that are trying to close out spring sports and transition to summer. The bigger schools have more of a pool of athletes to work with and will have the bodies to handle things early.
Coaches will have to cooperate, allowing athletes to complete their spring responsibilities and prepare their bodies (especially their arms) for the upcoming summer.
Some small-school teams might look drastically different into June than they did in the first two weeks, so take the early results with a grain of salt. Could just be teams getting up to speed.
First-week matchups to watch
The opening week has a few intriguing matchups. Here are just a few to keep an eye on, or get out to see in person.
Monday: Cedar Rapids Prairie at Iowa City High. Two of the top three teams in the MVC Mississippi last year. Both were ranked teams and have state-tournament caliber squads.
Tuesday: Bettendorf at Solon. The Spartans are going to be fun to watch. They open with Wamac foe Vinton-Shellsburg Monday and welcome the Class 4A Bulldogs the next night.
Wednesday: Dyersville Beckman at Western Dubuque. Dubuque County loves its baseball. Anytime you can get to a game at Dyersville, Farley or Cascade, do it. Baseball at its purest.
Thursday: Marion at Cedar Rapids Xavier. The Wolves are the returning state champions, while the Saints were semifinalists last year. Both have a lot of talent back from those teams.