DES MOINES — The hope started when they began playing youth baseball together.
There were town teams and a transition to traveling clubs. All along their vision was to take South Winneshiek to the state baseball tournament.
Last year, the dream became reality but then turned rude awakening when the Warriors fell in the quarterfinals to state runner-up Alburnett.
“We’ve talked about making the state tournament since we were little,” senior Noah Tieskoetter said. “It was always a big dream of ours. We knew we had a chance (to return). We just had to play hard every game.”
So, aspiration evolved into expectation this year. South Winn produced one of its best seasons and earned back-to-back state berths for the first time in school history. The fourth-seeded Warriors (25-1) take on No. 5-seed Don Bosco in the Class 1A quarterfinals Friday at Principal Park, beginning at 1:30 p.m.
South Winn conquered a season threatened by COVID-19 and opponents, advancing with a substate final victory over Saint Ansgar to avenge its only loss of the season.
“I’m just glad we ended up having a season,” senior Kody Kleve said. “There were a lot of things in doubt. I think everyone on our team, including coaches, were expecting another state appearance. It was a matter of competing every single time and getting the job done.”
An unsatisfying conclusion powered the Warriors in the offseason. The loss marked by an early four-run lead disappearing to the Pirates left a bitter taste in their mouths. They were determined to get an opportunity to improve last year’s finish.
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“They beat us and it kind of sucked,” Tieskoetter said. “So, that motivated all of the season. We needed to get the work in the offseason, because we knew we had a chance to make some noise.”
All but one player returned from the 2019 team that won 29 games and secured the program’s second state trip. The roster includes 10 upperclassmen and plenty of experience, creating a strong balanced lineup with nine all-Upper Iowa Conference performers and consecutive conference titles.
Seniors have served as leaders.
“All our seniors have different characteristics,” South Winn Coach Alex Smith said. “Noah and Kody are the vocal ones. Both can lead in that direction. Both are tremendous players for us. They’ve probably played the most in our program of the seniors, even though others have played significant time as well.”
Everybody has subscribed to a team-first mentality, accepting their role for the group’s success. South Winn is second in 1A in hits (241), doubles (45) and total bases (325), while coming in third in runs (241).
The Warriors are second in run differential, scoring 192 more runs than foes. Seth Greve leads the team with 37 hits and Jaron Todd and Cael Kuboushek are close behind with 36 and 31, respectively. Kleve has a team-best 31 RBIs.
“We have a lot of good players on the field,” Smith said. “We’re very good defensively in all nine positions. Anybody can produce for us on any given day. It’s very good from top to bottom.”
Pitching and defense is the Warriors’ bread and butter. They rank second in 1A with a team earned-run average of 1.25 and strikeouts (198). Tieskoetter is 6-0 with a 1.07 ERA and 51 strikeouts. Kuboushek is 5-0 with a 0.80 ERA. Ethan Luzum, the expected quarterfinal starter, is 5-1 with a team-high 57 strikeouts in 32 innings.
“Of our 25 wins, we’ve allowed just two runs or less in 20 of those wins,” Smith said. “It’s the staple of our program. We have great arms. We have great pitching depth.”
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South Winn will need to put all those components together for its first state victory. The Dons (17-1) stand in their way making their sixth trip in the last eight seasons.
“I think it will be a good game,” Kleve said. “We just have some pretty good hitters. We have to come out and do our thing, which starts with pitching and defense. I think if we can hold them, offensively, scratch a few runs across and hopefully come away with a win.”
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