116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Midland Coach Ryan Steines is getting big results from a small roster.
Only 12 players are on the Eagles' varsity roster with 22 in the entire program. The athletes Steines does have meshed well and posted some solid victories already this season.
'They are 12 kids who work really well together,' Steines said. 'We just kind of clicked to start the season.'
The Eagles enter Thursday's Tri-Rivers Conference doubleheader at Central City with a 7-2 record and have wins over Class 1A second-ranked North Linn and Alburnett, which received votes in the latest Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association rankings.
Good pitching and a dependable defense have been keys to the early success. Senior Connor Harms is 2-0 with a 1.13 earned-run average and 19 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings. Junior Fisher Bisinger's numbers are slightly better, owning a 3-0 mark, 0.74 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 19 innings.
Steines said he would put them up against any of the talented arms in the conference.
'They are our 1A and 1B pitchers,' Steines said. 'They have thrown strikes and we have just made plays behind them. Our defense has been outstanding.'
Harms is a four-year varsity starter. Steines praised his versatility, playing the position open by the starter when he's not on the mound. He has just three seniors and two juniors. Two seniors – Landon Hunter and Eli Spilman – haven't been full-time players until recently.
Hunter joined the team three weeks into last season, returning to the diamond for the first time since fourth grade. Spilman played baseball as an eighth-grader and freshman and stepped away for two years.
'We have a pretty young team,' Steines said. 'Our seniors have done a great job being leaders.'
Junior Austin Smith leads Midland with a .586 batting average, which ranks first in the Tri-Rivers for hitters with more than three official at-bats. Smith has 17 hits, including six doubles, a triple and a home run. He focused on strength training and returned stronger and quicker than a year ago, allowing him to move to shortstop.
'He's really committed himself to the weight room this last offseason,' Steines said. 'He's really turned himself into one of the best players in the Tri-Rivers this year.'
Steines laughed and admitted he didn't predict the early success. He saw the potential though. Four freshmen have varsity experience from a year ago, including quick-handed Wilson Buckwalter and strong-armed catcher Britan Martens.
They make up a class that was active in youth baseball, winning a state title in middle school. Their progress is ahead of what Steines expected.
'This freshman group is very talented,' Steines said. 'I didn't know if they'd quite be ready this year but they are starting to show they are and have filled in places we've needed filled with seniors from last year. Everything is clicking right now.'
ROLLIN' IN SOLON
Solon owns a seven-game win streak and more than half are against ranked Wamac teams. The Spartans have had an impressive week, sweeping Class 3A eighth-ranked West Delaware and No. 3 Vinton-Shellsburg.
Solon dropped the Hawks, 7-3 and 13-0 in five innings, Monday. The Spartans followed that with 12-8 and 9-7 victories over the previously unbeaten Vikings. They improved to 10-4 before Friday's road doubleheader at South Tama.
'We saw the rankings earlier today and we were talking about it,' Solon junior Luke Ira said after Monday's wins. 'We said we had to come out and make a statement and I think we did that.'
The Spartans peaked for the postseason, reaching the state tournament. The season started slowly, but things turned around with the twinbill split against 2A No. 7 Dyersville Beckman. The Spartans began to play with a purpose, especially at the plate.
'Last year, when we made our run to the state tournament we really started seeing it,' McSweeney said. 'We were seeing it deep against some really good pitchers.
'We kind of lost that approach the first week and a half of the season. They had a little meeting on their own. We started talking about playing team baseball and our approach. Lo and behold, we started to drive the baseball and think about situational hitting.'
LEADING THE WAY
The Gazette area is home to some of the state's offensive leaders. Vinton-Shellsburg's Tanner Davis is tops in all classes with 29 RBIs. North Linn's Jake Hilmer has 29 hits, 30 runs and 27 stolen bases, which is first in each category.
Cedar Rapids Jefferson's Braden Frazier, a University of Iowa commit, is in a three-way tie for the state lead with nine doubles.
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