EPWORTH — Western Dubuque has a luxury many programs don’t or will ever have for that matter.
The Bobcats boast a trio of NCAA Division I recruits nestled in the center of a talented and deep baseball roster that reached the Class 4A state semifinals last season.
Junior Calvin Harris has committed to Mississippi, senior Sam Goodman will continue his career at Iowa and senior Zach Bierman has signed with Creighton.
“It’s a great start to putting together a good team,” Western Dubuque Casey Bryant said. “Those guys aren’t only super talented, but they have the character you want to start a team with and they are the cornerstones of our team.”
They will lead the charge for a Western Dubuque team ranked second and set on a second straight Class 4A state tournament appearance. The Bobcats host Davenport West Tuesday to open a season that includes a move to the Mississippi Valley Conference.
“I think we’re excited to see how far we can go,” Harris said. “Just put our heads down and play as hard as we can. I would definitely love to finish in Des Moines again.”
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Western Dubuque earned a lot of attention with a strong postseason run and 34-10 record last season. After winning a second straight Wamac Conference title, the Bobcats dropped MVC Valley Division champion Cedar Rapids Prairie to advance to state for the first time since 2012. They followed it with a quarterfinal victory over Mississippi Athletic Conference champ North Scott before falling to eventual state champion Urbandale.
“Last year was a fun year and a great experience,” Goodman said. “We were really young last year and getting that experience is going to make a difference this year. With all the people returning, with all the key pieces, we think we have a chance to get a little further than we did last year.”
Bierman, Goodman and Harris were key parts to the success. They combined to go 21-3 in 26 starts with 261 strikeouts. Goodman and Harris owned earned-run averages well under 1.00, while Bierman came in at 1.49.
Harris, an Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association Super Team All-State catcher as a freshman and sophomore, batted .413 with a .518 on-base percentage. He added a team-high 52 RBIs and 57 hits, including 25 extra-base hits.
Goodman led the Bobcats with a 9-1 record, three saves and 113 strikeouts. Bierman was 4-1 overall with a save. Both hit over .260, getting on base more than 42 percent of the time, and driving in more than 20 runs apiece.
“They provide tremendous leadership,” Bryant said. “They are great character kids. They love being at the ballpark.”
Bryant said the Bobcats embrace hard work, opting to stay after a long practice to take more swings. The trio pushes each other to be their best, which extends to the entire team. Western Dubuque believes in the “iron sharpens iron” motto.
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“It’s awesome,” Harris said. “It’s cool to get out there and see everybody working extremely hard and pushing each other. We see it a lot in our scrimmages. They’re very competitive.”
Goodman said the team has strong camaraderie that is partly a product of playing together since they were young. The chemistry and ability allow the Bobcats to relax and play with confidence, knowing they can count on teammates to pick them up when down.
“We have other great players that can step up and do the job if you’re having an off day,” Goodman said. “I think that’s a big part of having a bunch of high-caliber players on one team.”
Don’t be mistaken. The Bobcats are a complete team. Senior Kyle Lehman and sophomore Sawyer Nauman were all-district picks last season. Damon Jaeger led the team with 47 runs a year ago. Payton Quagliano and Casey Perrenoud, who was injured part of last season, add a couple more arms. The Bobcats are balanced.
“We have a lot of guys who are great players,” Harris said. “We have guys, who might not be one through nine, are really good players, too. I think that competition helps propel us further.”
The baseball team kicked off a banner year for Western Dubuque boys’ sports, which included a Class 3A state runner-up finish in football and a state duals appearance in wrestling. Many players have contributed to those teams at a school that stresses participation in multiple sports.
Bryant said the skills may be different but the basics remain the same. He doesn’t have to emphasize commitment and competitiveness. The Bobcats already have it and have reaped the rewards.
“We have kids that hate to lose,” Bryant said. “They’ve grown accustomed to winning. They understand what it takes to win.”
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