Photo by Jeff Yoder
Your Prep Sports
It is strength on strength in the Class 2A opener as a strong hitting West Branch squad faces a North Linn pitching staff that is among the best in 2A.
West Branch returns to the state tournament for the third time and first since 2012 after a 3-2 walkoff win over Camanche in the regional finals and is chasing its first state tournament win since 2000.
The Bears enter hitting .327 as a team and lead the 2A field with 17 home runs on the season.
Six regulars in the West Branch lineup enter state tournament play hitting better than .325 led by junior Matt Paulsen at .439.
North Linn is making its first Class 2A state tournament appearance after qualifying in Class 1A four of the last five years including the last three and was a 1A semifinalist last season.
The Lynx enter with a Class 1A best 1.17 ERA on the season and have allowed just one run in three postseason victories after back-to-back shutouts of Waterloo Columbus and Pella Christian.
North Linn features a trio of pitchers with ERAs under 1.00 highlighted by senior standout Jake Hilmer who is 13-2 with a .85 ERA in 74 1/3 innings.
Hilmer also ranks third in the state with a .566 batting average and has scored 88 runs and driven in 41.
One of the most intriguing 2A quarterfinals features a pair of teams lacking in recent state tournament success.
Central Lee is making its third appearance at the state tournament but its first since 1997 and is seeking its first win at state since claiming a state title in 1989.
The Hawks pulled the upset of the 2A postseason to return to the state tournament, downing top-ranked Wilton 14-0 in five innings in the substate final.
Central Lee leads Class 2A with a .366 team batting average and 10.3 runs per game this season and has scored double digit runs in 16 of 23 games.
Eight players in the Hawk lineup are hitting over .333 led by senior Tyler Hopp at .463.
Des Moines Christian is looking to make history in its first ever state tournament appearance.
The Lions have won 10 of their last 11 entering the state tournament with the only loss in the stretch coming to Class 1A qualifier Martensdale-St. Marys.
After a 7-5 start to the season Des Moines Christian has won 21-of-24 games with two losses to state qualifiers.
Van Meter returns to the state tournament for the third straight season and fifth time in the past seven years seeking its first title game appearance since winning the 1A title in 2003.
The Bulldogs enter riding a 2A-best 19-game winning streak in which they have allowed one or fewer runs 13 times, including seven shutouts.
Van Meter ranks third in 2A with a 1.49 ERA and boasts a trio of pitchers with more than 31 innings and an ERA lower than 1.26 and that doesn’t include junior ace Anthony Potthoff who is 5-0 with a 2.24 ERA in a team-high 40 2/3 innings.
The Bulldog offense is led by Potthoff (.407) and junior Brett Berg (.529) who have combined for 91 RBI.
Underwood is seeking its first ever state tournament win in its second trip to state after falling in the quarterfinals in 2014.
The Eagles have won nine of ten and five straight after back-to-back one-run wins over ranked opponents in district and substate finals.
Underwood upset sixth-ranked Treynor 6-5 in the district final and downed No. 9 Hinton 4-3 in the substate finals.
Junior Landon Nelson headlines a strong Underwood pitching staff going 10-0 with a 1.78 ERA with 71 strikeouts in 59 innings.
One of two state tournament rookies in the 2A field New Hampton lost four straight and five of six to close the regular season before rattling off three consecutive postseason wins.
New Hampton won 12 straight to open the season and went 13-9 before its three-game run through the postseason in which it outscored opponents 15-4.
The Chickasaw pitching staff is led by senior ace Keegan Kane who is 8-2 with a 1.82 ERA and 56 strikeouts in a team-high 61 2/3 innings.
West Sioux is making its third state tournament appearance in the past five seasons and its first since finishing runner-up in Class 1A in 2016.
The Falcons haven’t allowed a run in the postseason, outscoring opponents 13-0 in three playoff wins including a 6-0 win over fourth-ranked West Lyon.
Junior Hunter Dekkers has been a big reason for the postseason success allowing just two hits while striking out 37 in 17 scoreless postseason innings.
In 24 innings in July Dekkers has allowed just one unearned run on five hits and struck out 54.
West Sioux has won nine of its last 10 entering the postseason with all four of its season losses coming to top-10 teams including two to 1A state qualifier Remsen St. Mary’s.
North Linn: Jake Hilmer, Sr., SS/P. Among the most accomplished players in the state Hilmer is hitting .566 and leads all classes in runs (88), doubles (26) and stolen bases (54) to go with a 13-2 record, .85 ERA and 149 strikeouts in 74 1/3 innings.
West Branch: Matt Paulsen, Jr., P/INF: Paulsen has done it all for the Bears this season leading West Branch with a .439 batting average while posting a 4-2 record and 3.45 ERA in 46 2/3 innings.
Central Lee: Waylon Weirather, Sr., P: The workhorse on the Central Lee staff, Weirather has gone 8-1 with a .79 ERA and allowed just 39 hits and 18 walks in 53 1/3 innings.
Des Moines Christian: Brett Shelton, Sr., P/1B: Shelton is the leader for the Lions all over the field going 9-1 with a .83 ERA in 59 1/3 innings and hitting a team-high .455 with 40 RBI.
Van Meter: Brett Berg, Jr., 1B. Among the top players in 2A, Berg is hitting a team-high 529 with 18 doubles and 49 RBI and also owns a .67 ERA in 31 1/3 innings or work.
Underwood: Blake Hall, Soph., 3B: Hall is hitting .419 and leads Underwood with three home runs and 37 RBI.
New Hampton: Hunter Pesek, Jr., CF: Leads the Chickasaws with a .439 batting average, 40 RBI and six triples and has scored 30 runs.
West Sioux: Hunter Dekkers, Jr., P. Iowa State football recruit has allowed two hits and no runs while striking out 37 in 17 postseason innings. Junior left-hander is 7-1 with a .44 ERA and 102 strikeouts in 48 innings on the season.
North Linn is the highest ranked team in a 2A field lacking in recent state tournament experience.
The Lynx have been ranked in the top three since week two and are the lone top-10 team on the top side of the 2A bracket.
North Linn has enough to earn favorite status including one of the state’s top players in Jake Hilmer, state tournament experience after reaching the 1A semifinals a year ago and a deep pitching staff.
However it’s no easy road for the Lynx starting with an opening round matchup with upstart West Branch that has been red hot at the plate.
West Sioux is a threat with junior Hunter Dekkers in the fold while fifth-ranked Van Meter has the talent and experience to make a run after falling in the semis last season.
If North Linn can get past West Branch in the opener it would face state tournament newcomer Des Moines Christian or Central Lee which pulled the upset of the season in 2A with a substate final win over top-ranked Wilton.
Van Meter is the team to beat in the bottom half of the bracket but has a tricky opener against Underwood.
West Sioux will be tough to beat with Hunter Dekkers in the opener but will need another pitcher to step up to reach the title game.
There will be a new champion in Class 2A with defending champion Centerville moving up to Class 3A this season.
However, there will be a truly new 2A champion crowned on Saturday as no team in the 2A field has won a state title in 2A since the state went to four classes in 1981.
* – West Branch is the only team in the Class 2A tournament field with double digit home runs hitting 17 on the season. No other team in the 2A tournament has hit more than seven.
* – North Linn leads the state with 217 stolen bases this season and is the only team in the state with more than one player with 40 steals. The Lynx have three in seniors Jake Hilmer (54) and David Seber (40) and freshman Austin Hilmer (40).
* – New Hampton has been hit by pitch 72 times this season, seventh most times in the state and 21 more times than any team in the 2A field.
* – West Sioux junior Hunter Dekkers is averaging 2.13 strikeouts per inning this season fanning 102 in 48 innings pitched.
* – North Linn senior Jake Hilmer has 27 multi-hit games this season including 14 games with three or more hits.
No. 2 North Linn (38-5) vs. West Branch (20-7), 11 a.m.
Central Lee (21-2) vs. Des Moines Christian (28-8), 1:30 p.m.
No. 5 Van Meter (31-3) vs. Underwood (26-4), 7 p.m.
No. 7 New Hampton (28-9) vs. West Sioux (21-5), 4:30 p.m.
North Linn/West Branch winner vs. Central Lee/Des Moines Christian winner, TBA
Van Meter/Underwood winner vs. New Hampton/West Sioux winner, TBA
Semifinal winners, 1:30 p.m.
Did you enjoy this subscription free article? Help keep Your Prep Sports free by becoming a member.