CEDAR FALLS — Repetition and game experience are part of the foundation towards building successful baseball players and teams.
Cedar Falls is demonstrating confidence and teamwork may be just as valuable.
The Tigers will take a 7-1 record into their program’s first state baseball tournament appearance since 1989 at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday against a top-seeded Johnston team (21-3) that played three times as many games. Eight games is more relatable to a football season than baseball where it’s not uncommon to reach that total within two weeks.
“You look at us compared to all the other teams that made it to state and you see the record and you’re surprised by how many games we’ve played,” Cedar Falls junior catcher and pitcher Gage Flanscha said. “But we’ve only lost one game.”
Indeed, three of the eight games Cedar Falls has played were against the Western Dubuque team that handed the Tigers their lone loss. Cedar Falls won the other two games of the series, including a thrilling 4-3 victory at Farley in their playoff opener.
A season that didn’t start until June 16 was delayed for two weeks after a member of Cedar Falls’ team tested positive for COVID-19. Once the Tigers were ready to resume games, two opponents were unable to compete. Decorah had to cancel while waiting a test result due to potential exposure and the virus forced Dubuque Senior’s season to come to an early end.
This week's scheduled games were canceled after opponents Decorah and Dubuque Senior had players exposed to COVID-19.
Members of the Cedar Falls team completed their own workouts during the quarantine period and had over one week of practice as a full team to prepare for their July 20 playoff game after not competing since June 25.
“We got back to work,” Cedar Falls coach Brett Williams said. “We put our best pitchers against our best hitters. My two assistants are still able to throw pretty well and guys had to compete against them.
“It’s not like we took it easy to make them feel good, because we knew we were going to see good pitching and pressure scenarios.”
With only one game in a single-elimination tournament guaranteed following the lengthy delay, the Tigers’ resolve surfaced as they continued to put in work to find success.
“You can’t let something like that (quarantine delay) get in your way, especially when you have goals like this,” Flanscha said. “Those roadblocks, you’ve got to get over. It was a hiccup, but it definitely wasn’t the end of our season.”
Beyond the lack of games this season, members of Cedar Falls’ roster have competed in fewer career varsity games than the rest of the 4A field. The Tigers start one senior, Colby Coonradt, within a roster filled with juniors and sophomores.
“I really didn’t expect that much out of this year,” Flanscha said, candidly assessing his team’s youth. “I wanted to get experience and I wanted to get at bats and grow as a team. The success we’re having is amazing.”
Williams coached this team at the freshman and sophomore level before taking over the varsity job prior to this unconventional season.
“We feel confident whoever we’re up there against that we’re going to compete and we’re going to enjoy this,” Williams said. “The experience is big. We’ve got a young team.”
Despite a lack of games, the Tigers are a cohesive group. They’ve shown comfort laying down bunts and moving runners over to manufacture runs during their postseason march to state. Quality starting pitching has been backed by reliable gloves in the field.
“He’s brought that community aspect. That’s what drives this team,” Flanscha said, addressing his team’s first-year varsity coach. “We play for each other and we play for the win. We don’t play for stats, we don’t play for anything like that. We want to go put a W out there on the board for all other eight players on the field.”
Cedar Falls punches ticket to Des Moines in eighth game of the season.
Cedar Falls’ celebration following last week’s state-qualifying win over Cedar Rapids Kennedy marked a moment that Tigers had rehearsed in their minds. They saw footage of Cedar Valley club teammates reacting to state-clinching wins and wanted a moment like that for themselves.
“Some of these guys played travel ball with Dike-New Hartford and Don Bosco kids,” Williams related. “Watching some of those videos of those guys celebrating they were like, ‘Hey, let’s go do that. That would be fun.’ It speaks well to the baseball in Northeast Iowa close by and it’s exciting to see those teams get in the state tournament.”