When Tyler Boothby recorded the final out, the Underwood baseball team wildly celebrated its second trip to the state baseball tournament.
Eagles coach Andy Vanfossan saw confirmation that a group of multi-sport athletes was doing things the right way.
“It’s the kids that have put the time in and will go from one practice to the other,’’ he said. “Sometimes they get there to lift weights in the morning at 7 and they don’t leave until 8 at night. In our size of school, you have to have that. If we rely on one-sport athletes, we’re sunk.
“Being able to accomplish what they have with the amount of work they’ve put in, it’s very satisfying for me and I’m extremely proud of them.’’
Seventh-seeded Underwood (26-4) will meet second-seeded Van Meter (31-3) in a Class 2-A state quarterfinal at 7 p.m. Monday at Principal Park in Des Moines.
The Eagles’ only other state appearance came in 2014, when they were a 1-A school and dropped a 7-0 quarterfinal game to eventual champion Twin Cedars. This will be the fourth appearance as a head coach for Vanfossan, a 1994 St. Albert graduate in his 10th year at Underwood. He also took Cherokee in 2005 and 2006 during a four-year stint there.
When this Underwood group was at the youth level, Vanfossan saw some ability, but knew it was far from a polished product.
“We thought there was some talent there, but they’d have to work and put the time in,’’ he said. “As far as saying, ‘OK, yeah, this group’s going to go to the state tournament,’ it crosses your mind. But you don’t think, ‘We can pencil this in that we’re going to do it.’’’
The top five hitters have been juniors Nick Ravlin (.441) and Zach Teten (.357), sophomores Blake Hall (.419) and Boothby (.379), and senior Drake Adair (.381).
Ravlin is a slick-fielding shortstop who has made three errors all season. He leads the team in doubles (13) and is second in stolen bases (18), on-base percentage (.504) and slugging percentage (.647). He’s also 3-1 on the mound with a 1.71 ERA.
Hall leads the Eagles in RBIs (37), on-base percentage (.517) and slugging percentage (.667), while slugging three home runs, tied for the top spot on the team. His primary position has been third base.
Adair ranks second on the club in RBIs (30) and is a strong defensive outfielder, while Boothby, a versatile infielder, is third in on-base percentage (.476) and slugging percentage (.540).
Teten ranks third in RBIs (29) and doubles (11), and has developed into an excellent defensive catcher, throwing out 10 would-be base stealers.
“The one that really sticks out is Zach, putting time in and really improving, especially in a really demanding position like catching,’’ Vanfossan said.
Junior Landon Nelson (10-0, 1.78 ERA) has blossomed into the team’s ace with 71 strikeouts and 30 walks in 59 innings.
“I think all of the boys, including Landon, have really bought into what we’re trying to do from a strength standpoint,’’ the Underwood coach said.
Nelson was a state qualifier in the shot put and discus last spring. Vanfossan said he did a better job this year of getting in baseball work during the offseason.
“This year he came in more – and he’s strong, so that helps – but as far as getting his arm in shape, that’s helped him,’’ he said.
In the semifinals of the Western Iowa Conference tournament on June 26, Tri-Center blasted the Eagles 17-7. They regrouped quickly, winning nine of their final 10 to reach Des Moines. Vanfossan said they stayed on an even keel.
“They’re not going to go and bang their head against a wall,’’ he said. “They’ve always done a good job of going day by day.’’
After being eliminated by Treynor 12-8 to complete a 19-6 campaign last season, Underwood turned the tables in this year’s district final, beating the Cardinals 6-5 in an emotional contest.
Vanfossan said it was important to find the balance of acknowledging Treynor’s baseball excellence, yet not letting it hurt his team’s preparation.
“I’d be lying if I said we didn’t talk about it,’’ he said. “But it wasn’t like something that completely consumed us. We thought, ‘Yeah, we’ll have to go through Treynor.’ But it wasn’t like we had everything circled.’’
Underwood is facing a formidable opponent. Fifth-rated Van Meter returns six starters from last year’s 2-A semifinalist, and its team ERA of 1.49 ranks second in the 2-A field.
Vanfossan said Ravlin joked that the unrated Eagles will probably have to face Van Meter native Bob Feller, who won five games for the Cleveland Indians at age 17 in 1936 – striking out 15 in his first start — and 266 in his Hall of Fame career.
While it won’t be Feller, who died in 2010, the Bulldogs boast six pitchers who have thrown at least 22 innings with ERAs of 2.55 or lower.
Junior Brett Berg leads a potent attack with a .529 average, 18 doubles, 49 RBIs, a .617 on-base percentage and a .788 slugging percentage.
“We’re really going to have to play our ‘A’ game to give ourselves a shot,’’ Vanfossan said. “That being said, we can go in there with no pressure. Hopefully we can string some hits together and make some plays and throw some strikes and give them all they can handle.’’