West High is one of the best prep baseball teams in the state right now.
And the timing works nicely as Class 4A postseason begins Friday in the form of first-round substate games.
West (29-11) has won 16 of its last 18 games, racking up multiple doubleheader sweeps along the way. The Trojans play Burlington (15-17-1) at 7 p.m. Friday at West. Across town, City High (22-17-1) matches up with Ottumwa (24-15) at 7 p.m. at Mercer Park.
The Trojans’ starting lineup boasts five players hitting above the .300 mark, while Austin Miller and Tanner Lohaus spearhead a formidable starting rotation.
“I know a little bit about (Burlington),” West coach Charlie Stumpff said. “They have a pretty nice lineup. Position player-wise, they have some pieces put together. We played them last year and they were well coached, so I expect them to be fundamentally sound. … We expect them to come in and be a team that we’ll have to play pretty well against if we want to come out on top.”
Kevin DeLaney sets the table for the Trojans in the leadoff spot. The senior center fielder is hitting .457 and ranks second in 4A in hits with 58.
Izaya Ono-Fullard had quite the varsity debut this summer, cementing the No. 2 spot in the order and playing third base. The sophomore is hitting .432 with an on-base percentage of .510. He has 16 doubles and 35 RBI. Additionally, sophomore Oliver Martin is hitting .328 with 27 RBI, junior Spencer Wiskus is at .311 and sophomore Nate Disterhoft is at .306 with 20 stolen bases.
Miller (6-2, 2.22 ERA) will be on the mound Friday in the start for West. Lohaus (6-2, 3.21 ERA) is the projected starter for Monday if the Trojans advance.
“Austin has been consistent all year,” Stumpff said. “He leads us in innings pitched. He’ll give us a good chance to stay in the game.”
While City coach Brian Mitchell’s club didn’t play Ottumwa this season, there is some familiarity.
Assistant coach Jim McGrane, an Ottumwa native, traveled to his hometown recently to scout, while senior Nick Sueppel — who is hitting at a .438 clip and leads the state in walks with 37 — has played with a few of Ottumwa’s players on previous travel teams.
The Little Hawks have put together multiple streaks this season — both of the winning and losing variety — but are winners of four out of their last six. Bryce Frantz (6-1, 1.42 ERA) is getting the call Friday as the starting pitcher against Ottumwa. Nine different pitchers started games for City in the regular season, so there is depth in the bullpen.
“Everybody is excited about the opportunity to play for a chance to go to state,” Mitchell said. “I can tell you this, we’re very excited, but we know Ottumwa is very good. We’re happy to be playing them at home and not there. We know they have good pitching. We know it’s going to be a tough game.
“We also believe strongly that we have quality pitchers that we can rely on at any point in a game.”
Back to West.
The Trojans not only advanced to the state tournament in 2014, but also were runner-ups. Combined with recent success this summer, can they keep the current run going?
“You can’t substitute confidence,” Stumpff said. “We have gotten into a little role, so the guys are feeling good about themselves. We were not always the healthiest team all year. Kevin missed some time, Spencer missed some time. So between the health and the confidence, hopefully our guys are going to perform well.
“That’s what it comes down to. You hope you play well. We have done everything we can to prepare ourselves. Now you hope you have a good game.”