Dubuque Senior’s Ben Hefel and the Dubuque County American Legion team open play in the Iowa state tournament today in Ames.

You could call them the baseball equivalent of the minutemen.

The Dubuque County American Legion baseball team quickly assembles players from all six of the county’s high schools, then routinely goes out and beats teams that have been playing together for years.

Dubuque County will seek its third consecutive berth in the Central Plains Regional, when it plays in the six-team state tournament this weekend in Ames. The run for the three-time defending state champions includes a berth in the 2018 Legion World Series in Shelby, N.C. The pandemic postponed the entire 2020 Legion season nationwide.

“The coaches do such a great job of getting guys together away from the field so we can get to know each other a little better,” said Dubuque Senior catcher Ben Hefel, a Winona State University commit. “Two weeks before the season, we had a steak fry and within about four hours, we all pretty much knew each other like we’d been playing together forever.

“It’s so important to have that chemistry. If you can talk outside the diamond, it helps so much when you’re playing in the games. Everyone gets talking in the dugout, and you know everyone has the same mindset of winning games.”

Dubuque County cruised to the state tournament by winning a three-team area tournament last weekend at Cedar Rapids Prairie. They pounded out 25 hits in the process.

The team beat Prairie, 7-2, before erupting for a 20-3 blowout victory over Linn-Mar. Both of those opponents expect to be solid teams in the Mississippi Valley Conference this summer.

“It’s been kind of neat to see the chemistry grow the last few weeks as the guys have gotten to know each other better and better,” said Ronnie Kramer, the first-year head coach after serving as an assistant to Rob Hoerner for six years. “It really helped to have that landslide win, too, because we got everyone some swings. Everyone was successful, and everyone was feeling good about themselves going into the state tournament.”

Cascade’s Eli Green, a member of a solid starting pitching rotation that includes Dubuque Wahlert’s Aaron Savary and Western Dubuque’s Tucker Nauman, enjoys being in the same dugout as Dubuque County’s stacked lineup. It sure beats pitching against that team.

“We have the best kids from all the schools in the county, so it’s a lineup that would be pretty tough to face,” Green said. “Our bats have been very hot lately, and if we keep going like we have been, we’ll be fine. And our pitching is really deep, which is important when you’re playing in the state tournament.

“It’s been a great experience to be a part of this team. It’s been awesome to get to know some of the best players in the county, guys that you’d heard of but hadn’t played with before. It’s a great group of guys and a lot of fun.”

The Legion team is sponsored by the American Legion Posts in Cascade, Dyersville, Dubuque, Epworth and Farley. The roster includes four players each from Senior and Wahlert, three each from Beckman and Cascade and two each from Hempstead and Western Dubuque.

Hefel, Gavin Guns, Ray Schlosser and Cole Smith represent Senior, along with Wahlert’s Jake Brosius, Savary, Garrett Kadolph and Landon Stoll will represent Wahlert.

Logan Burchard and Owen Huehnergarth join Nick Offerman from Beckman. And Cascade sent Green, Ted Weber and Kaleb Topping to the squad.

Sawyer Nauman and his younger brother, Tucker, are expected to be key contributors at Western Dubuque this summer. And Michael Garrett and Trey Schaber hope to help Hempstead make a return trip to the Iowa Class 4A state tournament in late July.

Dubuque County will play in a three-team pod with Ames and Moville, while the other side of the bracket includes host Gilbert, along with Carroll and Hiawatha. Ames and Moville kick off the tournament at 10:30 a.m. today, followed by Dubuque County vs. Moville at 1 p.m. and Dubuque County vs. Ames at 3:30 p.m.

The two pod winners advance to the championship game at 12:30 p.m. Sunday in Ames.

Dubuque County plays perhaps the toughest team in the tournament right off the bat. Moville features Blaine Harpenau, who led all Iowa high school pitchers with 108 strikeouts in 56 innings for Remsen St. Mary’s High School. The Kirkwood Community College commit went 8-0 with a 0.12 ERA as a junior last summer.

“We’re going to have to be on top of our game to beat them,” Kramer said. “If we play clean and continue to swing the bats the way we have been, we’ll give ourselves a chance.”

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