Granted, it’s a small sample size.
But the Dubuque Hempstead baseball team just might have opened enough eyes in the past two weeks to earn a spot in the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association’s Class 4A top-10 this week.
The Mustangs, who received votes in the preseason poll, have averaged more than 10 runs per game during a 4-0 start and are one of only two unbeatens in the state’s largest class. Cedar Rapids Kennedy is 6-0 in a season that began three weeks later than scheduled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Only having four games in the first two weeks, we’ve had to get creative at practice to keep the kids’ attention, because they’re champing at the bit to play,” Hempstead coach Jeff Rapp said. “But, the other side of that is the kids are really hungry.
“We haven’t had the 25 games we’d normally have in by now, and we haven’t been baking in the sun like we’re used to. That makes the kids eager to get after it and make the most of every opportunity they have to play.”
The Mustangs beat Dubuque Senior and Iowa City High in the first week and swept Linn-Mar in the second. They were scheduled to play Dubuque Wahlert early last week before the Golden Eagles suspended their season for two weeks due to a positive COVID-19 test, and the earliest possible makeup date for that doubleheader would be July 13.
The Mustangs are hitting .339 as a team and have scored 42 runs while allowing only 16 runs in the first four games. The pitchers have posted a 2.96 ERA.
“The big thing is we all trust each other,” said senior Devin Eudaley, who leads the team with a .600 (9-for-15) batting average and has driven in eight runs. “We know if we get on base, we’re going to score some runs, because there are so many good hitters in our lineup. It’s not like we’re relying on just one guy.
“We’re all just doing our job to get on base, and we trust that the guys behind us will hit us in.”
Six other Mustangs boast batting averages above .300, including Logan Runde (.462), Zach Sabers (.429), Kellen Strohmeyer (.385), Andrue Henry (.385), Trey Schaber (.333) and Michael Garrett (.300). Strohmeyer leads the team with 10 RBIs.
“It’s a lot of fun to be a part of a lineup where, from top to bottom, everyone can hit,” said Strohmeyer, a University of North Carolina recruit. “We have shutdown pitching, and we’ve been playing really good defense. It makes it a lot of fun when you can win by a lot.
“We had high expectations for ourselves coming into the season, and we thought we were capable of playing well, but I don’t think any of us expected to be winning by as much as we have been, especially in a tough conference like the MVC.”
Hempstead faces a hectic schedule, with doubleheaders scheduled for Monday, Wednesday and Friday this week and next. The playoffs begin July 17.
“Pitching is going to be the key,” Eudaley said. “With that many games in a short amount of time, we have to pitch well and keep our pitch counts down. Hopefully, the bats keep coming through to take some of the pressure off our arms.”