From winless to one win from the state tournament.
HLV has made a steady five-season climb from futility to a chance to make program history.
The Warriors will attempt to clinch their first state baseball berth, facing third-ranked Alburnett in the Class 1A Substate 5 final Tuesday at Marion, beginning at 7 p.m. The Pirates defeated HLV, 13-7, at Victor on June 14.
HLV seniors Dean Shaull, Cody Frahm and Brendan Wood were eighth-graders on that winless 2015 team. They have been a part of the improvement that resulted in 11 wins in 2016 and two straight winning seasons, including 20 wins and a district finals berth a year ago.
Now, the Warriors are 25-3.
“It’s kind of amazing that we went from 0-23 to where we are at now,” Shaull said. “I thought we had the talent but I wasn’t sure how well it would go in the long run with people going out and sticking with it.”
HLV returned seven starters and boasted its deepest roster and largest senior group since 2016. The Warriors spent four weeks ranked in the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association weekly poll, climbing as high as ninth.
“The focus wasn’t to be ranked,” HLV Coach Wes Warwick said earlier this season. “It was more if we are ranked, it means we are doing things the right way.
“When we sat down at the beginning of the season, not once did we mention being ranked. We talked about winning conference, district, substate and making it to Principal Park.”
Warwick said the current players are more knowledgeable about baseball. Practices can be used to work on the intricacies of the game and the Warriors work hard.
Past aspirations transformed into expectations.
“The expectation or the standard we created is we are always going to get better,” Warwick said. “We are always going to improve. We’re never going to be satisfied with where we’re at.”
HLV ranks fifth in 1A with a .359 batting average. Shaull leads the way, hitting at a .505 clip with a .610 on-base percentage. Shaull is three hits shy of 100 the last two seasons and enters Tuesday with 155 career hits.
“I’m just trying to go to the plate with the best mindset and make solid contact,” Shaull said. “I don’t try to do too much.”
Brody Wolf (11-1) and Carson Cheney (8-2) have allowed just three runs and have recorded postseason wins. HLV has recorded two 10-run victories, including a 10-0 victory over Tri-County and a 13-3 district final win Saturday over BGM. The Warriors also won a tight, 2-1, district semifinal against North Mahaska.
“Hard work, determination and working as a team,” Shaull said about the keys to this season. “It’s a blast hanging out with those guys.
“Just trying to go with the flow. It’s turned out good, so far.”
HLV’s only setbacks were by one run to BGM, Alburnett and second-ranked Martensdale-St. Marys. The Warriors will try to upend the Pirates, who are 31-5 with 19 runs in the last 20 games.
“We have to stay focused,” Shaull said. “We have to play as a team, don’t get down on any errors and play with good intensity.”
South Winneshiek (28-9) has a chance to earn its second state baseball berth and first since 2014. The Warriors avenged an early season loss to Wapsie Valley for a district title and will face the winner between Monday’s District 5 final between seventh-ranked Saint Ansgar and North Butler.
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In 2A, second-ranked North Linn (37-5) leads the state in victories. The Lynx will try to reach the state tournament for the fourth time in five seasons. North Linn takes on Pella Christian (17-14) at Benton Community in Van Horne.
Oelwein (21-11) returns to the substate finals for the second straight season. The Huskies will take on No. 7 New Hampton (27-9) at Waverly-Shell Rock. Oelwein’s last state appearance was in 2002.
The winner of Monday night’s District 6 final between Mid-Prairie and West Branch will travel to DeWitt for a substate game against Camanche (18-11).
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