MARION — Almost a month has elapsed since Cedar Rapids Xavier Coach Dan Halter and his staff noticed the Saints lacked energy and awareness.
Xavier lost the opener of a Mississippi Valley Conference doubleheader with Iowa City High 4-2 on June 18. Coaches addressed the concerns and they haven’t been a lingering problem. And, neither has losing.
The Saints enter the postseason with a 16-game winning streak, hosting Anamosa in a Class 3A District 7 semifinal Friday at Ken Charipar Field. Marion (22-14) and DeWitt Central will play in the opener, beginning at 5 p.m.
Xavier (29-9) has ascended to second in the 3A rankings and captured the MVC Mississippi Division title since taking the second game from the Little Hawks.
“Since then I can’t say there has been a time that has happened,” Halter said of the team’s lack of focus. “We’ve been locked in. When we show up ready to go (and) if we’re mentally engaged and locked in, that’s all we can ask and whatever happens happens.”
The Saints have formed the strength against solid competition. They have swept 4A third-ranked Prairie and Linn-Mar, which received votes in the final poll. Xavier has wins over previously ranked North Scott, 3A No. 5 Solon and added a 4-3 walk-off victory over 3A third-ranked Davenport Assumption in the regular-season finale.
“It’s something we have to keep rolling one batter at a time,” Xavier senior Gabe Lux said after the 10-1 victory at Solon. “I think if we keep putting in hard work together day-by-day and taking it one step at a time we’ll see how this works out.”
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Lux said a team-first mentality has been key for the Saints, who are more effective than flashy. The team has a strong camaraderie.
“We love coming to games and practices to get better,” Xavier’s Bryson Bastian said. “There isn’t a better group of guys out here.”
If Xavier wins, the Saints would host the winner between the Indians and Sabers. Central swept Marion in the regular season, but senior Blair Brooks has returned to the lineup, providing an offensive spark with a .545 batting average, six hits, four runs and four RBIs in his first three games.
Marion has won seven of its last eight games, winning the Wamac West Division title. The Indians also have a strong ace, Rick Atkins, who is 5-1 with a 0.86 earned-run average and 78 strikeouts in 49 innings pitched.
In 4A, Linn-Mar (22-14) will host a postseason game for the first time since 2015. The Lions are the third seed in Substate 4 and will face Pleasant Valley (20-20). Linn-Mar swept the Spartans in the regular season and have a chance for a second consecutive state appearance.
Third-ranked Cedar Rapids Prairie is the top-seed in the same substate as the Lions. The Hawks (30-8) will look for a third straight state berth, opening with Waterloo East (1-36). Prairie throttled the Trojans by a combined 38-6 in two conference games.
Western Dubuque (30-9) faces Bettendorf (13-24) at Farley. The Bobcats are the second seed behind Prairie.
Iowa City West joined Prairie as a top seed. The Trojans (29-10) are in a packed Substate 6 with second-seeded Cedar Rapids Jefferson (26-13) and No. 3 seed Cedar Rapids Washington (22-17).
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The J-Hawks will host Burlington (16-18). Davenport North (17-16) is Washington’s first-round foe. If the top three seeds advances, Washington will play a semifinal at crosstown rival Jefferson on Monday.
City High has put together a solid campaign. The Little Hawks are 22-17 this season after missing the state tournament by a victory a year ago. City High hosts Cedar Rapids Kennedy (13-24) in the first round.
Iowa City Liberty will make its first postseason appearance, competing in 3A. The Lightning finished their first regular season with a 10-21 mark. Liberty will play Washington (Iowa) (21-11) in the first round at Fairfield.
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